Promoting effective prison education policies and practices

Today, approximately 11 million people are in penal institutions worldwide, which equates to an average imprisonment rate of 144 prisoners per 100,000 of the world population. These numbers are constantly growing. With prisons frequently overcrowded, many prison systems around the world are at crisis point, unable to provide services, such as education, in accordance with international standards. Yet education is a fundamental human right and must not be denied to prisoners.

Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and at the heart of UNESCO’s mission, the right to education implies a right to lifelong learning. In the prison context, this right includes ensuring that inmates are provided with continuous access to quality education, from the first day of their incarceration through to and beyond the day of their release.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) works to improve existing prison education policies and practices that are designed to support inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration into society and thus contribute to making the right to education a reality for all.

In cooperation with the UNESCO Chair in Applied Research for Education in Prison and other partners, UIL is undertaking in-depth research on current policies and practice in the area of prison education. The aim of this research is threefold: to review how these policies and practices are progressing at the global level; to elaborate recommendations and guidelines for policy-makers and practitioners to improve the provision of quality adult learning and education in prisons; and to support prison education practice through improved policies, concepts and lessons learned. 

UIL’s research addresses key questions such as:

  • What is known about the quality of prison education programmes in selected countries and the constraints they face, e.g. scarcity of resources?
  • What factors are critical for promoting learning in prison with respect to the specific cultural and country context?
  • What implications do available research findings have for policies and practices within the education system? What training, technical assistance and/or other resources are needed to further develop prison education?
  • What further research is required in order to improve education in prison?