EPALE NSS Serbia gives an overview of the main topic of the closing EPALE conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina held 13-14. November 2018. Apart from the presentation of the results and the impact of the EPALE platform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the countries in the region (Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia), the focus of the conference was on prison education and showcasing best practice examples from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the neighbouring countries.
The presentations on prison education were given by prof. Branislava Knežić from the faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade and professor of pedagogy Milan Potkonjak from the Criminal-correctional facility in Banja Luka, followed by group discussions in workshops on several topics: education of staff in prisons, programs of prison education, education of prisoners for reintegration into the community.
The specificities of the prison environment
According to Prof. Knežić prison and the specific conditions within it should be the starting point when designing and organising educational activities in prison. Conditions of serving the penalty depend on many factors such as legal regulations, purpose of the sentence, infrastructure of the correctional institution, staff, as well as of the profiles of other prisoners. „We are all aware that the prisoners do not go to prison to go to school or to be educated. However, the main aim of the education in prisons should be preparing them for the life after the sentence but the question arises is it possible to achieve that in artificial and isolated conditions of a prison environment. Imagine being isolated in your own home for 6 months and without any contact with the outside world how would you feel? Now, think of the fact that most of prisoners stay behind bars for 5 years or longer“ says prof. Knežić.
Education and treatment in prisons
The presentation and the group discussion of the second day of the conference in Stanišići, Bosnia and Herzegovina continued opening several questions: what is the purpose of treatment in prisons? Which goals should education accomplish and who should be educated?
According to professor Knežić, prisoner treatment should accomplish following tasks: to „prepare“ convicts for the life after having served the sentence, to provide efficient functioning of the prison, and to enable the achievement of the main goal of the penalty –reducing recidivism, i.e. relapse of the prisoner. Having that in mind, education can help accomplish the following goals:
- time spent in prison can be used in a useful manner;
- negative effects of the imprisonment can be reduced;
- prisoners can learn how to deal with conflicts inside and outside of prison in a non-violent manner;
- prisoners can develop social skills;
- prisoners can gain vocational skills for high-demand occupations that could facilitate their employment after they get out of prison;
Even though the legal framework recognizes education in prisons as an important factor, the laws are not fully implemented in practice and the actual state in prisons in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina could be improved as reported by prof. Knežić and Mr. Potkonjak. Most common reasons of non-participation in educational programmes are the lack of belief that education can change the convict, inadequate competence of the staff in charge of penal treatment and the lack of knowledge about the importance of education in penal treatment. Furthermore, the convicts are often not informed about their right to education, while at the same time there should be more research conducted on educational needs and willingness of the convicts to participate in education. Another important point, which was highlighted during the plenary sessions and the group work was that there is an evident need for the training of prison staff who work with the prisoners.
Closing with examples of good practice
The conference was closed with the conclusions from the workshops and examples of good practice as a light motif for future development of prison education. One of the examples is the pilot project „Support to vocational education and training in prisons in Serbia“ initiated and financed by the EU with the aim of providing support to resocialization and the increase of their employability after their sentence. The project included vocational trainings in 5 high-demand occupations: baker, screen printer, welder, carpenter, vegetable farmer. These trainings were realized in 3 prisons (correctional institutions)in Požarevac, Sremska Mitrovica and Niš. Another good example is the art colony in Sombor where convicts create works of art together with academic painters. The prisoners paint, create sculptures out of stone and wood and in the end, they have their own exhibition.
To read more about the conference and view the presentations of speakers visit following links: