The eight students were, on Friday, presented with awards which recognised their completion of the module called Substance Misuse and Addiction Studies. Photo: Franco Alva

Prison students receive awards

A group of students from Cork Prison have been learning some basic knowledge about commonly misused substances with the hopes it will break the cycle of addition.

The eight students were, on Friday, presented with awards which recognised their completion of the module called Substance Misuse and Addiction Studies.

This module teaches the distinction between substance use, misuse and dependence. It covers drug pharmacology, biological effects, and impact on mood, behaviour and cognition and societal effects. It emphasises the importance of addressing safe use and community capacity in responding locally to substance use issues including alcohol.

It also provides key information on overdose response and prevention of harm to individuals, families and communities.

The module, delivered through Adult Continuing Education (ACE) at UCC is the first UCC accredited module in Substance Misuse and Addiction Studies offered in Cork Prison and one of the first university accredited modules in Substance Misuse and Addiction Studies within the Irish Prison system.

This module was developed by Dr Robert O’Driscoll Senior Addiction Counsellor with the HSE Addiction Services and delivered in partnership with James Leonard, Host of The Two Norries Podcast, with the shared purpose of breaking the addiction cycle.

It is facilitated by the Education Unit in Cork Prison, managed by Cork ETB and delivered through Adult Continuing Education (ACE) at UCC and accredited by UCC.

Dr Séamus O Tuama of UCC ACE said: “Lifelong learning is about people having opportunities to learn throughout their lives, no matter where they are or what they are doing. ACE at UCC is totally committed to that idea.

“The module the prisoners have completed is both a standalone qualification and also fits like a jigsaw piece into a bigger diploma that can be completed after release, should they choose to should they progress to the Level 7 Diploma in Substance Misuse and Addiction Studies at UCC.

“By working as a team with the education service at Cork prison and through the efforts of the students here in the prison, we have been able to create a lifelong learning gem that genuinely crosses boundaries and creates positive opportunities for the learners.”

Caron McCaffrey, Director General Irish Prison Service, said: “This collaboration with UCC has been a tremendous opportunity for Cork Prison and for the guys who are graduating. Addictions are sadly a common cause for people to end up in custody and this collaboration between the HSE and Adult Continuing Education at UCC will allow these prisoners to not only better understand their own addiction but allow give them the knowledge and tools to share with their peers.”

Dr O’Driscoll said: “The course was developed with the unique learning needs of the prison population in mind, so as to make the content and assessment accessible for the prison population. Prisoners have all too frequently been underserved learners. For many their first positive engagement with education comes in a prison setting.

“Four in five prisoners do not complete a Leaving Cert, more than half leave school before Junior Cert and a quarter never attended secondary school. This subject area is a particularly relevant area of study for students within Cork Prison as a lot of them have ended up in prison as a direct result of addiction or alcohol or drug problems.

“These can be their own addiction problems, within their family or with parents, so very few are unaffected directly or indirectly by the subject material. While the course is not therapy, and does not attempt to be therapy, the course provides students with valuable information to help them understand their lived experience from different biolological, psychological and sociological perspectives. Who knows, it might encourage them to pursue further or third-level education upon release,” he said.

James Leonard has publicly shared his experiences of addiction, crime, and recovery, and those running the course said this adds significant credibility among the students. They said some students knew James from his time in prison and can take hope working him with now in his current role. He is seen as an expert by experience having faced and overcome the challenges facing many entering the criminal justice system.

Denis Leamy, Chief Executive of Cork ETB, said the staff in Cork ETB’s Education Unit were pivotal to the success of this module. “Teachers and tutors supported students with literacy requirements, as well as supporting students to meet assessment requirements using a range of subjects areas such as woodwork, ceramics, textiles, pyrography etc.”

He too stated that Cork ETB is very supportive of this programme and looks forward to continued collaboration with UCC and the HSE Addiction Services.