Prison Education Outside the United States

These resource papers are excerpted from the book College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons

“If we want humans to behave as humans, we must treat them like humans.”

William Rentzmann, Deputy Director-General, Department of Prisons and Probation, Denmark

The Council of Europe knows that education emphasizes personal development, builds confidence, teaches employable skills, and reduces recidivism. They recommend that prison education cover common topics, vocational education, creative and cultural activities, physical education and sports, and social and library facilities.

The justice systems in Scandinavia are models for the rest of the world. Education satisfies a requirement that prisoners be treated with dignity while it minimizes prison’s negative effects. Preparation for release begins the day an inmate is admitted. Courses include life skills, primary and lower-level classes, upper secondary, vocational, and university-level classes. Most are web-based.

Education has become an integral part of English and Welsh prisons. The UK prison service is legally obliged to offer educational opportunities from literacy to postgraduate study for students ages 15 to over 65. Basic education takes place onsite. Higher-level distance learning programs are available, and internet platforms are being developed.
Australia’s community partnerships ensure that prisoners are trained during incarceration then reintegrated and employed after release. Since the 1970s, Western Australian governments have made efforts to incorporate vocational education at all security levels. Training is linked to employment opportunities, and many of the courses are provided through technical schools and colleges.  Accredited courses are recognized by schools on the outside.

The Prison Library Support Group in Germany (Förderverein Gefangenenbüchereiene) utilizes books and AV materials to connect prisoners to the outside world, help them spend their time productively, and facilitate reentry.

Schools in Romanian prisons operate under the Ministry of Education, Research, Youth, and Sports as part of the national school network. Prisons must have a library that meets established standards. Upon a prisoner’s release, county agencies provide information, counseling, mediation, and employment.

In 1949, Thailand began incorporating education programs ranging from functional literacy, life skills, and vocational training to bachelor’s degrees for those who completed secondary schooling.  Higher education courses are offered at the prisoners’ expense.