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International and other standards that influence the rehabilitation and education of offenders.

There is growing international emphasis on the education and rehabilitation of offenders, which is illustrated by the involvement of the United Nations in the compilation of standards for educational programs for offenders. Around the world, people are increasingly recognizing the need for the humane treatment of offenders and the important role contributed by offender education and development, which, according to the United Nations (1995), as a basic right, should focus on all dimensions of the offender: cognitive, physical, social and spiritual. Other important international agencies, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are also entering the field of offender development with increased effectiveness. This article explores the various mechanisms, agreements and standards that have contributed to service delivery that furthers the development and education of offenders worldwide. Education of offenders should form an integral part of rehabilitation for a number of reasons. First, offenders--in general--have lower levels of education than nonoffenders. The Center on Crime, Communities and Culture (1997) indicated low levels of education among the prison population in the United States. It emphasized that the majority of persons released from prison are still undereducated, unskilled and are highly likely to become involved in crime again. At the same time it is argued that research has shown that one of the most effective forms of crime prevention is quality education.

Secondly, rehabilitation should occur with a needs-based aim. Where low levels of education are identified, the following should be used to influence offenders to adopt and develop:

* appropriate, positive value systems;

* alternative social interaction options;

* life-skills; and

* vocational and educational skills that could assist in finding employment.

This article will focus on elevating the importance of education as

part of rehabilitation in prisons. This importance derives from various international instruments, regional directives and local influences, all which will be discussed in more detail.

U.N. Resolutions and the Human Rights Framework

One of the best-known international organizations to tackle the worldwide issue of education and development of offenders is the United Nations. Various provisions and resolutions of the United Nations are often the instrument for establishing standards and norms for detention in most prison systems of the world. Education and rehabilitation of offenders are normally emphasized in the various U.N. guidelines.

The United Nations' human rights framework is contained in two documents that are relevant to education and rehabilitation in prisons. The first document is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Section 26 declares that "everyone has the right to education." This right includes not only technical and professional education, but also the right to the development of the individual's personality toward maturity.

The second resolution is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has been effective since Jan. 3, 1976. Sections 13 and 14 of the covenant set out the right to education. Section 13 is a repetition of section 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which confirms that all member countries must recognize everyone's right to education, and that education will be aimed at the "total development of the individual's personality."

The Standard Minimum Rules for The Treatment of Offenders

The United Nations adopted a number of standards that are relevant to offender treatment and rehabilitation. The most important of these was the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Offenders, which was compiled in 1955. Section 77 requires that "provision be made for the further education of all offenders who would benefit thereby, including spiritual education." Therefore, education in prisons and other criminal institutions should, as far as is practicable, be integrated into the education system of every country. A study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) showed that in only one of 12 countries (Singapore) the education provided to offenders was not in line with what was presented in the schools of those countries (United Nations, 1995).

The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules For The Administration of Juvenile Justice

The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice is another set of standards that addresses the rehabilitation and education of offenders. These standards, also known as the Beijing Rules, establish guidelines for the rights of juvenile offenders. In rule 22.1, attention is focused on the importance of professional education and sustained on-the-job training of the staff who work with juveniles as an important guarantee of a productive education system in detention facilities. Relevant education must be provided to ensure that offenders do not leave the institution with an educational deficit or return to the community with an educational handicap. It also is essential that educational efforts occur in classrooms.

Other U.N. Resolutions Influencing Prison Education

On May 24, 1990, the U.N. Economic and Social Council adopted Resolution 1990/20, which outlines guidelines for offender education, and Resolution 1990/24, which addresses education, training and community awareness in the field of crime prevention.

The following key recommendations that arise from these resolutions are applicable to member countries (United Nations, 1990):

Provide different types of education and development that will contribute to crime prevention, resocialization of offenders and the reduction of recidivism;

* Consider increasing the use of alternatives to imprisonment as well as measures for the social resettlement of offenders;

* Education in prisons must be aimed at the development of the whole person, taking into account the offender's social, economic and cultural background;

* All offenders must have access to education, including literacy programs, basic education, creative, spiritual and cultural activities, physical education and sport, social education, higher education and library facilities;

* Every effort must be made to encourage offenders to participate actively in all aspects of education;

* Everyone involved in prison administration and management must facilitate and support education as far as possible;

* Discouraging offenders from participating in approved formal education programs should be avoided;

* Vocational education must be aimed at the broader development of the individual and should be sensitive to trends in the labor market;

* Creative and cultural activities should be emphasized because they have the potential to help offenders develop and express themselves;

* Where possible, offenders should be allowed to participate in educational programs outside the prison;

* Where education is provided inside the prison, the community should be involved as much as possible; and

* The necessary funds, equipment and training staff must be made available to give the offender the most appropriate education.

Specialized U.N. Agency

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a U.N. agency founded in 1945 that includes a focus on rehabilitation and education in prisons as part of its goal toward international agreements on ethical issues. UNESCO's declaration at the 1985 Fourth International Conference on Adult Education recognized everyone's right to learn, defining the right to learn as:

* "The right to read and write;

* "The right to question and analyze;

* "The right to imagine and create;

* "The right to read one's own world and to write history;

* "The right to have access to educational resources; and

* "The right to develop individual and collective skills."

Once imprisoned, the above rights are severely hampered or impeded upon, mainly through restraints from the side of prison systems. Long hours in cells, lack of educators and the inability to make inmates participate in educational programs are only a few of these restraints. According to Farnworth and Lieber (1989), poor school attendance plays an important role in clashing with the criminal justice system.

Regional Role Players

There are important differences in the way different regions and individual prisons throughout the world implement education and rehabilitation in prisons. Objectives in the approaches to development and education in prisons differ not only regionally but also between nations with similar economic, cultural and political backgrounds. However, there is a general consensus that education is a basic human right.

Africa. The African Charter on Human and People's Rights was adopted in 1981 by the Organization of African Unity and came into effect in 1986. Section 17 states that "every individual has the right to education" as well as "the freedom to participate in the cultural life of his/her community."

Forty African countries were present on Sept. 21, 1996, for the adoption of the Kampala Declaration regarding the conditions in African prisons (Penal Reform International, 1996). The lack of physical activities and education were specific issues raised, and it was recommended that "offenders should be given access to education and skills in order to make it easier for them to re-integrate into society after their release" (Penal Reform International, 1996). According to Luyt (Bruyns, Jonker and Luyt, 2000), additional recommendations for improving development and education in prisons were put forward in the Arusha Declaration, which was adopted in March 1999 and was endorsed by the United Nations. At the same time, the importance of education to offenders under community sanctions is underlined in the Kadoma Declaration.

Latin America. Sections 14 and 15 of the Protocol of San Salvador refers to the right to education, which must be geared toward the full development of the human personality and dignity so the person in question is able to make a decent living. Complete implementation of the Protocol of San Salvador will take place as soon as all 11 Latin American countries endorse it (United Nations, 1995). The influence of the protocol on education in prisons is not yet known.

Islamic Countries. The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which was signed by member countries in August 1990 during the Organization of the Islamic Conference, makes specific reference to education in its provision concerning human rights. This is expressed in Section 9 as follows: "The demand for knowledge is an obligation and the provision of education is a duty for the community and the state." Diversity in education must be guaranteed and promoted in such a way that it conveys the message that the whole personality of the offender will be developed (United Nations, 1995). Considering the traditional role that religion plays in education, inmates honoring the Islamic faith are allowed to practice their religion in prisons in various non-Islamic countries.

Asia and the Pacific Countries. At the annual conferences of Asia and the Pacific Correctional Administrators, there is a great deal of emphasis on human rights, as well as the national and regional implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Offenders. Education and the development of the personality as a human right of offenders has formed the basis of all education in prisons within the region. With the exception of Brunei, India and Sri Lanka, the presentation of rehabilitation and educational programs to offenders is required by law (United Nations, 1995).

Europe and North America. Education as a human right is included in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which has been effective since 1950. In 1989, the European Council identified adult education as a "fundamental factor for equality in educational opportunities and cultural democracy" (European Prison Education Association, 1991). With regard to offenders, it was recommended that the different governments adopt policy that recognizes the following:

* All offenders must have access to education, including literacy programs, vocational education, creative and cultural activities, physical education and sport, social education and library facilities;

* The education provided to offenders should be the same as that provided to similar-aged people in the community;

* Education should not be given a lower status than work in a prison, and the offender should not lose out financially or in any other way as a result of attending educational programs;

* Development programs must be provided to ensure that educators in prisons use appropriate adult education methods; and

* Special attention must be given to offenders with specific problems, particularly those with literacy problems.

In the United States, the federal system as well as some state correctional systems have made it compulsory for illiterate offenders to attend a basic education program for a minimum period. Performance and progress are rewarded by means of positive parole reviews, a reduction in prison term and access to higher-level programs. The American Judges Association has taken note of the move toward compulsory or voluntary education and has published its own recommendations for proposed legislation for compulsory education (United Nations, 1995).

The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations

When considering international communication and cooperation to promote development and education in prisons, the contributions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other volunteers cannot be underestimated. By means of seminars, workshops, individual research and the publication of reports, such organizations have already contributed to the success of international initiatives in the field of education in prisons.

In Africa, the role of NGOs in prisons is increasingly being regarded as important. During the 1996 Pan Africa Seminar on Conditions in Prisons in Africa, it was recommended "that special attention should be paid to vulnerable offenders and that nongovernmental organizations should be supported in their work with these offenders" (Penal Reform International, 1996).

The following is a summary of activities that have already been addressed by established NGOs in the area of development and education in prisons.

The Correctional Education Association. During the 1980s, the Correctional Education Association compiled standards for juvenile and adult education programs in prisons. Various developmental program administrators and researchers from all over the United States were involved. The standards were recently endorsed by the American Correctional Association. Today, these standards are applied throughout the United States and Canada during the revision of individual programs. The standards also currently form the basis and rationale for reform in correctional and educational legislation (United Nations, 1995).

International Council for Adult Education. Because offender education is closely related to adult education, the work done by the International Council for Adult Education is of great value for educators in prisons. The organization investigated the state of education in Canadian prisons. Findings showed that the education provided to Canadian offenders was inadequate, and 105 recommendations were made (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1979). Many of these recommendations were implemented, which improved educational services immensely (Stephens, 2001).

International Forum for the Study of Education in Penal Systems. This organization was formed in 1991, with branch offices in Australia, Canada, Spain, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the United States. This forum is one of the few NGOs that are dedicated entirely to the study of education in prisons. The primary goal of the organization is to promote cooperation in the area of education in prisons by means of education, the community and international activities (United Nations, 1995).

In 1992, it sponsored a seminar that formed part of the International Symposium on Prison Education, in preparation for the 47th International Conference of the Correctional Education Association.

European Prison Education Association. In 1993, the European Prison Education Association was founded as a European counterpart of the Correctional Education Association (United Nations. 1995). In addition to encouraging education in European prisons, the association provides support and assistance to the educators in prisons, promotes cooperation with related professional organizations and supports research in the field of prison education.

International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council. This council is an important contributor to education for offenders in the activities of the U.N. Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch. It also is an important source of background information during international conferences dealing with development and education in prisons. One of the views strongly endorsed by this organization is that development programs in prisons should make the sentence of an offender more humane. In addition, assistance is given to governments to successfully implement existing international standards for prison education (United Nations, 1995).

Prison Education and the South African Correctional Services Act

In South Africa, the Department of Correctional Services had to undergo a metamorphosis, resulting from the implementation of the new South African Constitution. The Bill of Rights (Republic of South Africa, 1996) protects specific rights that are directly applicable to offenders in prisons. In addition, the department was transformed from a security service to a civil state department that had to guarantee service delivery to the public. Most recently, offender rehabilitation took center stage with new service delivery areas being identified to enhance rehabilitation (Department of Correctional Services, 2005b; Department of Correctional Services, 2005a).

In the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998, Chapter III, which deals with the custody of all offenders under conditions of human dignity, makes specific reference to development and support services and reading material (Republic of South Africa, 1998). Section 16 mandates that development services be provided to offenders and that, by means of a library, offenders be allowed access to available reading material of their choice, provided such material does not constitute a security risk.

Section 38 provides that in the case of a sentence of 12 months or more, the manner in which the sentence is served must be planned. This planning takes place after the offender has been assessed in terms of educational needs and specific development program needs, among other things. According to section 37(1), an offender must, after assessment, participate in the design and implementation of any development plan. With specific reference to section 41(1 to 7), the act provides the following:

* The department must provide or give access to as full a range of programs and activities as is practicable to meet the education and training needs of sentenced offenders;

* "Sentenced offenders who are illiterate or children may be compelled to take part in the educational program offered in terms of subsection 1;

* "The department must provide social and psychological services in order to develop and support sentenced offenders by promoting their social functioning and mental health;

* "The department must provide as far as practicable other development and support programs that meet specific needs of sentenced offenders;

* "Sentenced offenders have the right to take part in the programs and use the services offered in terms of subsections 1, 3 and 4;

* "Sentenced offenders may be compelled to participate in programs and to use services offered in terms of subsections 1, 3 and 4 where, in the opinion of the commissioner, their participation is necessary, having regard to their previous criminal conduct and the risk they pose to the community; and

* "Programs must be responsive to the special needs of women and they must ensure that women are not disadvantaged."

The South African Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998 endorses and requires the rehabilitation and education of offenders in prisons. In fact, the offender may be compelled to participate in developmental programs. The act also makes provision for alternatives if a prison is unable to provide the education itself. The Department of Correctional Services views rehabilitation as a process that commences upon admission and continues throughout the imprisonment up to and after release into the community through the additional system of community corrections (Department of Correctional Services, 2003).

The number of inmates participating in available educational programs remains consistent when compared on an annual basis. In 2002, 37,427 inmates participated in educational programs. In 2003, 37,977 inmates participated and in 2005, 35,604 inmates participated. Many of these programs involved NGOs, community-based organizations and faith-based organizations, thus expanding the scope of prison education and development interventions (Department of Correctional Services, 2003; Department of Correctional Services, 2004; Department of Correctional Services, 2005b).


In South Africa one of the more recent resolutions is the provision of different types of education and rehabilitation that should contribute to crime prevention, re-socialisation of inmates and the reduction of recidivism. The South African Department of Correctional Services is committed to maintaining an active partnership with the United Nations regarding rehabilitation and education of inmates (Department of Corrections, 2005a).

As a result of the South African Correctional Services Act and the commitment to education in prisons expressed in the White Paper, offenders can in the future expect greater accessibility to development programs. This expectation was already reflected in the 1999/2000 budget, where $5 million more was made available for the development of offenders than in the 1998-1999 budget (Department of Correctional Services, 2002). With growing numbers of inmates inside prisons, the importance of education to break the cycle of crime cannot be emphasized enough.

Having said that, South Africa is struggling to reach this goal. The main reasons are overcrowding (at about 63 percent of design capacity) and a scarcity of teachers to run prison programs. Notwithstanding the good intentions of the Department of Correctional Services regarding international standards, additional prison education and rehabilitation, evidence of continued effective educational intervention is hard to find.


Bruyns, H.J., J.J. Jonker and W.F.M. Luyt. 2000. Unit management and legal principles in prisons. Florida, South Africa: Technikon SA Publishing House.

Department of Correctional Services. 2002. Annual report." 1 April 2001 to 31 March 2002. Cape Town, South Africa: Formeset Printers.

Department of Correctional Services. 2003. Annual report." 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2003. Cape Town, South Africa: Formeset Printers.

Department of Correctional Services. 2004. Annual report. 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004. Cape Town, South Africa: Formeset Printers.

Department of Correctional Services. 2005a. White Paper on Corrections in South Africa. Pretoria, South Africa: Government Printer.

Department of Correctional Services. 2005b. Annual report. 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005. Cape Town, South Africa: Golden Era Printers.

European Prison Education Association. 1991. Prison education in Europe. European Prison Education Association Newsletter, 1(1), (2) et seq. Sheerness, U.K., HMP Standford Hill.

Famworth, M & Lieber, M. J. 1998. Strain theory revisited. Economic Goals, educational means, and delinquency. American Sociological review, 55 (2) 236-279.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 1979. Report to the solicitor general of Canada concerning the educational program of the Canadian corrections system. Ottawa: Department of Solicitor General.

Penal Reform International. 1996. The Kampala Declaration on prison conditions in Africa. Paris: Penal Reform International.

Republic of South Africa. 1996. The South African Constitution, Act 108 of 1996. Pretoria, South Africa: Government Printer.

Republic of South Africa. 1998. The Correctional Services Act, 111 of 1998. Pretoria, South Africa: Government Printer.

Stephens, D.J. 2001. Education programming for offenders. In Compendium 2000 on effective correctional programming, eds. L.L. Motiuk and R.C. Serin, 57-63. Ottawa: Correctional Services of Canada.

The Center on Crime, Communities and Culture, 1997. Education as Crime Prevention. Providing Education to Prisoners. Open Society Institute: 2006/03/06.

United Nations. 1990. Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners. Geneva: United Nations.

United Nations. 1995. Basic education in prisons. Vienna, Austria: United Nations.

Professor Willem Luyt and Nicolien du Preez, Ph.D. work in the Department of Penology at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa.
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Author:Luyt, Willem; du Preez, Nicolien
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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