Plenary talk to the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) Conference, Tønsberg, June 2023

The following presentation was delivered remotely to the 2023 EPEA Conference in Tønsberg, Norway. It marked the publication of the book on the history of the first two decades of the EPEA, The Emergence of the EPEA by Langelid et al. The book mainly covers the years 1989 to 2010 and dwells especially on the values and thinking, about prisons as well as education, that lay behind early developments. As well as giving a sense of what is described in the book, the presentation also outlines the unease felt by the four authors about the direction taken by the EPEA more recently, as well as the limited support for genuine education found in many prison systems today. The full text of The Emergence of the EPEA is available as the next item on this website.

The Emergence of the European Prison Education Association, EPEA, by Torfinn Langelid, Kaj Raundrup, Svenolov Svensson and Kevin Warner

(Halden Prison Publishing House, 2021)

Although conceived in 1989, the EPEA was really an organisation which emerged over several years. This new book charts that development and indeed earlier efforts, from the 1970s in particular, to promote international co-operation around education in prison. The aims of the EPEA have long been to promote opportunities for learning for everyone in prison and to support prison educators through European co-operation.

The book teases out the thinking and values around both penal policy and adult education that helped shape the EPEA, an outlook associated especially with the Council of Europe. It is striking how the human rights based and humane philosophy of the Council of Europe was strongly held by many Director Generals and others in leadership in prison systems in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, and how crucial these prison leaders were to the formation of the EPEA. The authors show how they as much as educators advocated education as a human right for all, and an opportunity for personal development rather than an instrument for so-called ‘rehabilitation’.

Europe has changed greatly since the inception of the EPEA in 1989 and the EPEA has been carried on the tide of that change. The main EPEA conferences every two years have been noted for their atmospheres of learning, mutual support and encouragement, especially for those ‘working on the ground’ in many kinds of penal institutions. These major events brought people together from across a continent where many barriers had been removed – east and west, north and south – with many also from other parts of the world. As the story of Europe continues to evolve, the need for the EPEA and its capacity to bring people together from all corners, while adhering to the best of European values, is as strong as ever.

Click here for full text (PDF)

Should We Judge Education by Recidivism Rates?

‘Should We Judge Education by Recidivism Rates’ is an edited version of a short panel presentation given at a Correctional Education Association (CEA) regional conference in Vancouver in autumn 1999. The paper was published in the CEA News and Notes in April 2000.

Click here for full article download.

Every possible learning opportunity

‘Every Possible Learning Opportunity…’ was published in Advancing Corrections Journal, Edition number 6, in 2018. This is a publication of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA).

‘Adult education’ thinking envisages ‘the full development of the human personality’, offers many learning opportunities, and recognises learners’ individualities and capacities to transform their lives. This philosophy and practice is as valid within prisons as in the community outside, a view asserted in Council of Europe and United Nations documents. Research from many countries into what learners in prison value most from their study supports this perspective, but punitive penal policies limit the possibilities adult education offers. Policy implications include recognising education in prison as a right rather than a privilege, and ensuring a wide curriculum is offered to all.

Click here for full article download.


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.

Click here for full article.

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).

Click here for full article.