PRISONERS are being taught about life on Mars to help them go straight.
Jail bosses are boldly going where no one has gone before by laying on thought-provoking lectures on the possibility of life on other planets.
They hope to convince inmates crime only serves to hold back civilisation.
Edinburgh University astrobiologists have been delivering talks and workshops behind bars to criminals at Edinburgh’s Saughton prison and HMP Glenochil in Clackmannanshire.
Now the scheme is being rolled out across the country with some inmates even taking part in experiments to see if crops could grow on the moon.
The scheme has been welcomed by campaigners who claim it could help reduce crime rates.
Pete White, of the charity Positive Prison? Positive Futures, said: “Anything that can help people in jail to think beyond that wall and beyond themselves is constructive.
“The reading age of over half of the prison population is less than 11.
“Many come from chaotic households where they’ve never had the opportunity to excel, their vocabulary is limited and education has always been linked with failure.
“And yet you’ll find that sci-fi and fantasy novels are among the most popular reads in prison libraries because people don’t stop thinking and they want to escape the harsh reality of being locked up.”
The Life Beyond programme is a collaboration between the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and Edinburgh University’s UK Astrobiology Centre.
During the four-week course, experts work with prisoners to “develop innovative plans and designs for human-tended stations on Mars”.
Prisoners consider “exploration objectives”, try creative writing and design, and even write “Martian Blues” music.
Their work will be published by the British Interplanetary Society and will be made available to space engineers, explorers and agencies around the world.
Now the astrobiology team, led by Professor Charles Cockell, is planning to take the scheme into high-security Shotts and Low Moss, near Glasgow.
But they’ll also be returning to Glenochil to carry out a research programme in gardens tended by inmates to see whether food could feasibly be grown in soils similar to those on the moon or Mars.
Professor Cockell said: “Offenders can be encouraged to see that criminal activity merely slows progress and degrades quality of life.
“We live in a civilisation that faces big challenges but has huge opportunities too and we are engaging people in this through space education. Whoever you are, enriching one’s view of science is invaluable.”
An SPS spokesman said: “We hope to stimulate the imagination and harness the often latent talents of those in our care.”
St Andrews University last month received a £150,000 grant to teach science, technology, engineering and maths in jails.
Phones in cells? Scots jail chiefs track English scheme
Scots prison chiefs are studying the impact of a pilot scheme in England which has seen the installation of phone lines in jail cells.
A total of 10 prisons south of the Border are testing the move which allows inmates to use phones in their cells to contact pre-approved numbers, such as family members. In 2013, Colin McConnell, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), backed the idea of having phones in cells, claiming, “anything reasonably and safely we can do to help sustain and develop family contact, we should give it a go”.
And last year the think tank Reform Scotland proposed piloting landline phones in prison cells to help maintain contact between prisoners and their families.
The organisation said evidence suggests maintaining close family ties can help prevent re-offending.
In a written answer lodged at Holyrood, Mr McConnell, said: “The SPS is in contact with our colleagues in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to review the findings of a study carried out by researchers at York University into the impact of in-cell telephones on custodial behaviour and on re-offending by inmates.”
A SPS spokesman confirmed the study was under review but added there were no immediate plans to introduce phones in the cells.