Prison education isn't just a challenge. It’s a right and a deontological principle that should seek to develop each prisoner's autonomy in spite of their incarceration.
There’s a debate about whether or not education in closed environments such as prisons is effective. Is it a kind of utopia? Will the students see results? While there are plenty of opinions about prison education, a branch of social education called social prison education can shed some light on these questions.
“People debate whether or not you can truly educate someone who’s incarcerated. If you propose educational or liberating socioeducational praxis in a closed, punitive, and violent setting, what is it? Is it a utopia? A paradox? A contradiction?” [translation]
-José del Pozo and Fanny T. Añaños-
Scarfó (2002) explains that education is the foundation of citizen identity. “He who doesn’t receive or use this right loses the opportunity to belong to society. He cannot participate in a real way or be a true citizen who exercises his rights and fulfills his duties in favor of developing society.” [translation]
From these ideas, the Resolution on Education in Correctional Settings was born. It came out of the Education International 5th World Congress (Berlin, Germany; July of 2007). This resolution explains the need to include social education in correctional facilities.
Prison education isn’t just a challenge. It’s a right and a deontological principle that should seek to develop each prisoner’s autonomy in spite of their incarceration. (2)
Prison Education Theories
Let’s look at some of the different theories on prison education in order to better understand this particular branch of social education.
This type of theory interprets criminal acts through the lens of individual psychopathological and biological factors. They have been very relevant in the history of delinquency and prison treatment. Authors such as Eysenck are great examples of these models. (1)
It’s also important to mention that from the social psychology school of thought, other authors provide ideas that don’t solely consider individual personality factors. (3, 4)
These kinds of theories are related to multidimensional and structural factors. Thus, they’re based on the idea that systems and social, educational, cultural, or familial relationships influence criminal etiology. (1) Some examples are the inequality of opportunities theory or the theory of social deviation. (5, 6)
Professor Miguel Melendro explains that, during the last century, we’ve developed perspectives and models that enrich and markedly improve socio-educational intervention methods for disadvantaged populations.
Thus, some of the disciplines that have played a role in forming socio-educational models in prison education are:
- Behaviorist approaches.
- Dynamic perspectives.
- Systemic family therapy.
- Competence model.
- Popular education.
Socio-Educational Programs in Correctional Facilities
According to Garrido and Gómez (1995), prison education has traditionally followed scientifically technological models (within medical frameworks of the behavioral tradition that seek alignment of the subject, and present in positivist pedagogy).
Classic educational models in prisons try to get students to reproduce certain social frameworks without taking contextual and sociocultural variables into account. (1)
The programs that prisons use most often are generally corrective. They’re usually based on behavioral models of reinforcement or punishment. Those who implement these models tend to believe that they’re the best option. These models are divided into four groups:
- The psychological and psychoanalytical model.
- The biological-behavioral model.
- The factor model.
- The humanist model.
There are more humanistic and up-to-date models as well. They’re the following:
In the participative model, socio-educational rehabilitation in prison should involve the whole prison community, but especially the prisoners.
Consequently, the idea is that everyone carries out the process together and that the inmates voluntarily take on the rehabilitation process. (1, 9)
These are individualized and group educational programs. (10)
Gender Empowerment Model
These can have a two-pronged approach. The first is to help inmates overcome the sociocultural and structural criminalization of women with criminal records. (11, 12) The second is to develop equality between men and women in the prison setting. (13, 14)
Knowledge and Pedagogical Action Models
The crucial aspect of these models is a collective consensus about the work that inmates do in prison. It also places importance on inmates’ enjoyment of what they do, and the educational relationship between inmates and teachers. (1)
These models believe that reentry renews prison intervention in the professional and structural dimension. Thus, the challenge is to convert prison spaces and concepts into possibilities for freedom.
As you can see, there are plenty of alternative prison education models. Nevertheless, it seems that behavioral and individual models still reign supreme today. Do you think it’s possible to develop any of these models in the near future?