Australia, USA, Europe and their shared footprint in prison education

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ACEA, AEC and EPEA meet in Australia.

Ray Chavez ( ACEA) – Annet Bakker (EPEA) and Peggy Meyers ( AEC)

The EPEA was generously invited to attent the 13th ACEA Conference on Prison Education that was held in Canberra Australia in the beginning of October 2017.

Ray Chavez, chair of ACEA (Australasian Correctional Education Association), Peggy Meyers representing AEC (The American Education in Correction) and your’s truly representing the EPEA were there to explore a cross-pollination of their prison education networks.

Another reason for the presence of both Peggy Meyers and myself was to add the international scope to the Australian conference, that hosted a richness of diversity in it’s activities. Representatives of all Australian states were actively involved in the workshops, panel discussions, the plenaries and last but not least the prison visit to the Alexander Magonahy Centre. This exchange works both ways, because it was just as interesting for me to learn about the way prison education is organised in this vast country and part of the world. The event was very much about sharing the stories, after the aboriginese culture. I have plenty of stories to bring home.

The probably most striking difference with our European experience is the focus on native Australians, the aboriginals who are represented and  actively present in every activity and deliver their contribution to the development to policies and practice. It is impressive to see how this influences the agenda of this conference, and probably the everyday life of all Australians. A visit to the National Museum taught me the basics about aboriginese heritage and culture. So I was not completely lost for what the clear reference to this nature oriented people was concerned. Since a disporportionally large part of the aboriginese population is to be found in prison, it was clear that this was a specific issue that called for specialized intervention. In most conversations that I had, reference was made to hands on activity to involve aboriginese elders in with aboriginese prisoners. Because there are two ways of looking at Australia: the Aboriginese way or the white fella’s way. The event took place in Canberra, the nation’s capital, land of the Ngunaway.

Other than that I learned about the structure of the Australian Correctional System. Just like Europe it has developed  overcrowding of most of it’s prison facilities. Australia’s Correctional Edcuation System is based upon  one set of national quality standards, but can differ per state/ county, since there is a variety of education providers that would deliver education in line with state and/or county regulations and facilities in the specific region.

Correctional Education is delivered under the auspicien of the Ministry of Edcuation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, apart from the obvious basic educational offer, there are many academic learning possibilities for prisoners. There is an academic offer in every state. Open University offers the possibility for funding on two levels. Fee Funding and another Funding.  “Fee” would be for undergraduates that would taken shorter modules up to bachelor-level, which is not restricted by any cap and after graduation  a person would be able to apply for the other funding. (for post-graduates)

Obviously I could only attend few of the many presentations; isn’t that the downside of any conference with a big diversity in workshops? But what a luxury if you think of it. At this stage, I would only like to briefly mention one of the developments I heard of:

Justice re-investment: a methodology of raising awareness in a community, about emprisonment, it’s consequences, it’s costs and it’s alternatives. By means of an elaborate systematical approach keyplayers in the community will discuss, discover what  decisions and processes lead to detaining a person and the consequences this enhances. They will then look at alternatives and compare costs and discuss how money should best be spent.

Please look here to find more information (photos and presentations) about this interesting conference.

I went home with lots of impressions, the feeling of really having made new friends and my head filled with many interesting stories. New contacts to share with others.

Ray Chavez, Peggy Meyers and myself agreed to more frequently get in touch and connect our organisations in more substantial ways. They will both promote IDEP, our International Day of Eductaion in Prison on the 13th of October. The formation of SIG’s (Special Interest Groups – that will focus on specific areas of PE interst) was also embraced by both overseas colleagues.

EPEA left a footprint in Canberra and hopefully this was not the first and certainly not the last one we will share.


Annet Bakker