Report from the European Prison Education Association

Article excerpt

At the recent International CEA conference in Des Moines, I had the opportunity to participate in an International Forum on Corrections with colleagues from the USA, Canada and Australia. In the course of the discussion and the informal conversations I had through-out the conference there was a lot of interest in exploring other correctional and prison education systems. A recurrent theme from delegates was an interest in how the correctional educational systems operate in Europe. I was constantly asked about the differences between the correctional systems and educational provision in Europe compared with the United States. 1 believe this is an opportune time to explain a little about correctional education in Europe.

Europe does not have a homogenous correctional education system and both justice systems and educational provision can differ widely from country to country. However, the recent history of correctional education in Europe is based on a framework adopted by ministers of the Council of Europe in 1989.

The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organization. It was established in 1949 and now has 46 countries, including 21 countries from Central and Eastern Europe. It is distinct from the 25-nation European Union. Born out of the experiences of World War II, the Council of Europe was set up to:

* defend human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law

* develop continent-wide agreements to standardize member countries' social and legal practices,

* promote awareness of a European identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures.

Two documents drawn up by the Council of Europe inform European correctional education policy. The European Prison Rules (1987) and Education in Prison (1990) provide a framework for correctional education in the forty-six member states of the Council of Europe. Education in Prison (1990) was largely written by correctional educators and there is a strong emphasis on the central role education should play within prison. While different jurisdictions have different penal codes and have different correctional systems, these documents have been adopted by the justice ministers and those responsible for education of prisoners through-out the member states of the Council of Europe. It is the seventeen Recommendations contained in Education in Prison (1990) that inform European correctional education policy. It is therefore appropriate to reprint them in full. They recommend that the governments of member states implement policies which recognize the following:

* All prisoners shall have access to education, which is envisaged as consisting of classroom subjects, vocational education, creative and cultural activities, physical education and sports, social education and library facilities;

* Education for prisoners should be like the education provided for similar age groups in the outside world, and the range of learning opportunities for prisoners should be as wide as possible;

* Education in prison shall aim to develop the whole person bearing in mind his or her social, economic and cultural context;

* All those involved in the administration of the prison system and the management of prisons should facilitate and support education as much as possible;

* Education should have no less a status than work within the prison regime and prisoners should not lose out financially or otherwise by taking part in education;

* Every effort should be made to encourage the prisoner to participate actively in all aspects of education;

* Development programs should be provided to ensure that prison educators adopt appropriate adult education methods;

* Special attention should be given to those prisoners with particular difficulties and especially those with reading or writing problems;

* Vocational education should aim at the wider development of the individual, as well as being sensitive to trends in the labor market;

* Prisoners should have direct access to a well-stocked library at least once per week;

* Physical education and sports for prisoners should be emphasized and encouraged:

* Creative and cultural activities should be given a significant role because these activities have particular potential to enable prisoners to develop and express themselves;

* Social education should include practical elements that enable the prisoner to manage daily life within the prison, with a view to facilitating the return to society;

* Wherever possible, prisoners should be allowed to participate in education outside prison;

* Where education has to take place within the prison, the outside community should be involved as fully as possible;

* Measures should be taken to enable prisoners to continue their education after release;

* The funds, equipment and teaching staff needed to enable prisoners to receive appropriate education should be made available. …