Latin American regional meeting on education in prison
Source: ICAE
By Adelaida Entenza

Latin American regional meeting on education in prison
Brasilia, 27 and 28 March, 2008


The regional scene of education in prisons, the exchange of experiences between participants, making UN agencies aware and getting them involved, and preparing recommendations for the 6th International Conference on Adult Educaton (CONFINTEA VI), among others, were some of the main goals of this meeting, organized by UNESCO/ Brazil, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice and the Organization of Iberoamerican States (OEI) with the attendance of participants from 16 countries of Latin America and Europe. Adelaida Entenza participated on behalf of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE).

This meeting is part of one of the five regional meetings that will precede the International Conference on Education in Prison CIEP (20 24 October 2008, Brussels), organized by the French Community of Wallonia Brussels (Belgium) and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).

These activities are all part of this important initiative of UNESCO to move forward in the subject of education in prisons.

After a debate on education in prisons within the perspective of lifelong education and learning of young and adult people; the regional reality on education in prison; the exchange of experiences and good practices and the presentation of the subjects coordinated by Latin American entities (literacy, libraries, right to vote, gender and prisoners-educators/peer education), participants made numerous recommendations, see below.

Opening of the regional meeting on education in prison

Marc De Maeyer
(UNESCO UIL Director CIEP 2008)


Brasilia hosts today the first regional conference preparatory to the international conference on education in prison! That is that there is no long tradition in international conferences sector on education in prison. But there are long traditions of confinement of people having harmed others; there is also a long tradition of information, of cooperation, of exchange of information between prisoners.

There is also a good tradition of international exchanges on security, on the possible reform of prisons, on the reform of penitentiary systems. There is also a great tradition of international exchanges in the formal, non formal, global, for everyone, for minorities, for specific regions of the world education sectors… except for education in prison.

It’s undoubtedly because we don’t like much to mix genres. Prison punishes; education frees. But this changes.

For some years, governments are admitting that prison constitutes a failure; they admit it does not resolve anything or not much; they admit prison is a social failure, apart from being a failure for each prisoner. They note that prison, instead of helping resolve the problem of violence, of crime,... aggravates it, amplifies it, it sometimes gives a legitimacy.

There has been, until recently, a kind of lax consensus on incompatibility between prison and education;… but now that the observation becomes evident for several governments, we are ready to admit there is a problem, and that problem might probably be solved by education.

Certainly, we do not all agree on the definition of education and its role but here we join the essential debate on education, its functions, its agents. And not only in prison.

We will support adults’ education, we will claim that education is a right, we will admit that education is not a product but a process; that it has no sense until it develops itself lifelong.

Our challenge is to show that these new options, these new definitions, these new functions also suit for prisoners.

Is the same person that will live different moments: before, during and after prison. Each moment, each phase is an opportunity to learn. What has to be checked is next to whom one learns... with whom one learns and what it is learnt.

Many things are learnt in prison: survival, the group, assimilation, silence, absence of initiative, dissimulation. All that is learnt on the spot. Without instruction but not always without a master.

But it is there that danger lies, and it is here that the intervention of the State becomes necessary: can a State tolerate that various learning could happen in their most supervised institutions and not be able to intervene?

Isn’t it absolutely necessary for the State, responsible of education, to print its own mark, to impose its view of education, of social development, of political dynamics, of society, of social cohesion?

Doesn’t it also have to think about the families of prisoners, guards' continuing training, the role of libraries, the way of supporting education between peers, a dynamic literacy, citizenship…?

In this emergency, numerous actors will mobilise with different objectives. In the position paper of the conference, we list a certain number of motives why education in prison wants to be organized.

- for some, education in prison environment would be a specific concern of industrialized countries that would have the resources that enable them to add educational programmes to services already offered in prison, while many other countries cannot even offer the basic services.

- for certain, it would be a demand that could only be satisfied later, when the other more urgent problems outside prison (development, wars, famine) and inside prison (security, feeding, health) would be solved.

- for others, it would necessarily reduce recidivism.

- for others, it would be one of the ways to keep prisoners occupied and calm down the most nervous ones.

- even for others, it would aim to restart an education missed; it would be the place of "re-education".

- for certain others, it would be the occasion to reorganize the prisoner’s life and his/her release.

- even for others, it should humanize and improve the conditions of confinement becoming a phase previous to the setting up of the rehabilitation process.

Lately, ministries of education, social affairs, training, justice, the civil society, organised groups, private companies, churches, sects, consider they have to bring something in prison, they can teach “something to prisoners”

As it is believed that a certain education can be useful… it is true that prior, ignorance, humiliation, surveillance, punishment… have already been tested. As a last resort, we will try education.

So, we stand before several actors who want to bring education.

What UNESCO and the Belgian French Community propose by organizing this first international conference on education in prison is to identify the actors and clarify their projects.

In prison as well as outside, good will, policy projects, ambition, are not enough.

Education in prison is not schooling, or the second chance, or a privilege. Education in prison is a right and positive or negative statistics in matters of recidivism should not alter the primacy of the right to education for all, whatever the context, whatever the results previously obtained.

Ladies, Gentlemen

As you surely noticed, this international conference is a whole process that started more than two years ago and not a four-day event.

Along this process of preparation, mobilisation, sensitisation, visibility, we could count upon the positive support of several persons and institutions.

I would like to highlight the support of the Unesco Office in Brasilia, the Unesco Office in Santiago de Chile, the Brazilian ministries of education and justice, the Eurosocial project for Latin America, a certain number of governments and NGOs in the region.

The conference will be held in Brussels from 20 to 24 October this year, and will gather those in charge of the administration of education, justice, social affairs, and also of the organized civil society and of universities.

Numerous initiatives are also taken by non governmental organizations, and I would like to highlight the support received from Alfasol, from Ilanud, from Açao educativa, from Instituto de Aceso a Justicia, from Uni Freire in Brazil and from the Ministry of Education of Argentina. Each one coordinates a thematic working group and this afternoon they will have the chance of presenting you the results of the first moments of the research.

I would like to take the opportunity to warmly greet Madam Jacqueline Pitanguy who has accepted to be the president of the scientific committee of this first international conference on education in prison.

This conference will take place within seven months; apart from the regional meetings organized in each region of the world, apart from the thematic workshops, I would also like to highlight that we will try to give value to the work done by prisoners - and particularly through non formal education activities.

We will do so by organising several exhibitions in institutions of the city of Brussels.

We know that non formal education is an education of its own right and not poor education for poor people.

By learning to shape projects, by tangling with others and getting to the end of this project to the point of being able to present it as successful to others, prisoners make or remake the experience of success.

And isn’t here the basis of education for all: that of allowing each one to appropriate knowledge and skills, to face them, to decide about its use at the service of a life project.

Whatever their past, prisoners preserve the right of having positive learning experiences; they preserve their right to success. This right does not erase at all their criminal liability; this right does not modify at all the one of projects formulation.

The right to education is inalienable, valid in any circumstance. It does not deny or give value to the past.

Our job, as those in charge of government, actors of civil society, researchers, employees of intergovernmental international institutions, is a job of surveillance, of promotion, of follow-through of this right.

Education in prison is the reconciliation with the act of learning, even with the pleasure of learning.

Thank you


Recommendations for the International Conference on Education in Prison (CIEP 2008), CONFINTEA VI and the Latin American community.

The following recommendations refer to all institutions within contexts of confinement.

Said recommendations are supported by the following basic principles:

1. Education is a lifelong fundamental human right.

2. The State shall be the unique responsible of guaranteeing and making effective the right to quality education of people deprived of freedom in confinement institutions.

3. All persons, as persons holding a legal right, must have access to quality education, whether they are deprived of freedom or not.

4. Education must be understood integrally comprising the individual in all dimensions of his/her personality: ethic, aesthetic, political, artistic, cultural, and in the field of health, the world of work and social relations.

5. Respect for diversity depending on race, ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation, age group and religion must be a guiding principle of every educational process.

6. Respect for multiculturalism must be a guiding principle of every educational process.

7. The attention given to quality of education is essential in contexts of social inequality like in Latin America.

Recommendations to Education in Contexts of Confinement

In view of the principles stated, we make the following recommendations:

1. Ministries of Education and/or similar governmental bodies must assume the responsibility of the educational policy in these contexts, in coordination with Ministries of Justice or equivalent bodies for its implementation.

2. Governments must design, implement and evaluate complete public policies on education and not only isolated projects.

3. It is essential that the different governmental bodies and/or institutions formalize moments of coordination with a view to develop complete educational policies and transversalized by gender, race, ethnic group, age group, religion and sexual orientation. These policies must consider the following dimensions: health, work, social development, culture, political participation and citizenship, human rights, sports, among others.

4. Formal and non formal education must be coordinated as part of the educational project of each institution.

5. It is important to recognize the leading role of the private subject in educational processes (Peer Education), but not implying the substitution of the State’s responsibility as guarantor of education. This leading role must be valued and recognized in different ways such as remission of penalties, cultural and economic encouragement, among others.

6. To strengthen education and valuation of prison agents, teachers and other professionals working in contexts of confinement within a perspective of human rights, with a view to promoting their role as facilitators in educational processes.

7. To increase reality of confinement institutions’ visibility, favouring citizen participation in its transformation.

8. To strengthen the links of confinement institutions with universities and civil society organizations organized to build the social bond.

9. To generate the systematic production of statistical and qualitative data of free access, in order that they contribute to transparency and definition of public policies.

10. It is essential to recognize the children living with their mothers in confinement institutions as persons holding legal rights, and to make their transition to educational and recreational institutions outside the prison easy.

11. It is necessary to develop pedagogical projects that facilitate family and community participation.

12. Within the educational strategies, it is advised to create libraries, video libraries and other cultural and recreational spaces.

13. Within the principle of lifelong education, it is advised to establish policies that facilitate the continuity and monitoring of educational processes as from the recovery of freedom.

Participants in this Regional Meeting showed concern regarding the present tendency to privatization of penitentiary services given that they can negatively interfere in the implementation of coordinated and integrated educational public policies.




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