Prison education across Europe: policy, practice, politics

London Review of Education
Volume 12, Number 2, July 2014

Anne Costelloe and Kevin Warner

The nature of the education offered in prisons varies greatly. Provision can be focused narrowly on limited objectives, such as training for employment or seeking to ‘address offending behaviour’. On the other hand, where prison education follows the policies of the Council of Europe or the European Union, which are drawn from the traditions of adult education and life-long learning, it becomes a more comprehensive and transformative experience for men and women held in prison. Underpinning these different approaches are two very different perceptions of those held in prison: one sees merely ‘an offender’, while the other recognizes ‘the whole person’ and his or her membership of society. Where narrow and negative concepts of the men and women held in prison prevail, one tends to find severe limitations on the quality and quantity of the education offered. Four such ‘curtailments’ are discussed.

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Educating ‘the whole person’: a wide and deep role for prison education

Keynote talk to 14th EPEA Conference, Iceland 5th to 8th June 2013

One could say the EPEA was conceived in Oxford in 1989, the initiative in the first place of an English prison teacher, Pam Bedford (now Pam Radcliffe). It then had a rather long gestation. An ad hoc Committee was formed two years later, in Bergen in The Netherlands, but we cannot really say an organisation was properly born until Sigtuna, in Sweden, in 1993. In Sigtuna, there were two developments that made clear the EPEA was launched as a proper organisation: the EPEA constitution was adopted, and the first EPEA tee-shirts appeared (produced, as far as I remember, in Norwegian prisons).

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Redefining Standards Downwards:

The Deterioration in Basic Living Conditions in Irish Prisons and the Failure of Policy

The phrase ‘redefining standards’ might be assumed to imply a commitment to higher, more rigorous, standards, along with the more effective enforcement of such standards. In the case of the Irish prison system, however, we have seen over the past two decades alarming examples of where standards have been re-defined downwards, so that, for a majority of those detained in our prisons, basic living conditions have significantly deteriorated and the experience of being in prison has become even more burdensome and damaging.

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Paul O’Mahony (1946-2015): An Appreciation

While a doctoral student at Trinity College in the 1970s, Paul O’Mahony also did research for penal reform groups. Then, from 1981 to 1993, he worked in the Prisons Division of the Department of Justice. Word had it that the Department of Justice didn’t really want a social psychologist focused on research – but they got one anyway courtesy of the Civil Service Commission. They were fairly ok with psychologists looking inside people’s heads, but not so keen at looking at wider issues such as the lives those in prison experienced, their backgrounds and the social issues which brought them
into prison.

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Valued members of society?

Social inclusiveness in the characterisation of prisoners in Ireland, Denmark, Finland and Norway

This paper draws on one strand of research that examined
whether the rise in punitiveness in relation to imprisonment that
has taken place in the USA, Britain and Ireland in recent times
can be found in Denmark, Finland or Norway.

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