If Cyprus 2009 is the 12th EPEA Conference, where were the other 11?

Written by Keven Warner

That is not as easy a question as it may seem. It is possible to trace the pattern of conferences going back over recent decades, but the numbering does get confusing. The first time a conference was labelled ?EPEA? was in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1993 ? but that was called the ?4th EPEA European International Conference on Prison Education?! Oxford in 1989 is correctly seen as the place and time the EPEA began as an organisation, yet that conference went under the title ?Second International Conference on Prison Education?!

How does one explain this confusion? It turns out that the English, bless them, have been the cause of much of it, and in turn they deny Cyprus some of its place in history. I?ll try to untangle things, restore a rightful role to Cyprus and suggest a new schedule.

An English thing with numbers
Away back in July 1984, some people in the Home Office and the Open University in England organised what they titled the ?First? international conference on prison education, called ?Strategies for Education within Prison Regimes: International and Comparative Approaches?.  This gathering took place in a magnificent country setting called Wiston House, near Steyning in Sussex, and had speakers from France, Denmark, Canada and Hong Kong, as well as England.

Five years later, in 1989, some of the same organisations, this time joined by the North American CEA, held a further conference, in Wadham College, Oxford, which they called the ?Second? international conference on prison education.  It was here that the idea of the EPEA was conceived, even if it took a few years to take shape and step out into the world. Pam Bedford, an English prison teacher, was the person most responsible for bringing the EPEA into being and for nurturing it in the early years.

At Oxford, Robert Suvaal and other Dutch colleagues volunteered to organise a follow-up conference in 1991. This next conference, in the Folk High School in Bergen in The Netherlands, then became, of course, the ?3rd International Conference on Prison Education?. The EPEA was still just being formed, its ad hoc committees holding meetings on the fringes of that Bergen conference; it was only at the following conference in Sigtuna, Sweden, that the EPEA had a constitution.

“EPEA” conferences
That Swedish conference was organised by prison educators from four Nordic countries, who had taken on this task after Bergen. They graciously put the ?EPEA? name on the event, calling it the ?4th EPEA conference?, although the EPEA Steering Committee had little part in organising it. From 1993 onwards, however, the EPEA, now properly constituted and organised, took on responsibility for conferences, such as the 5th in Blagdon, England, in 1995 and the 6th in Budapest, Hungary, in 1997 and so on.

So, when we speak of Oxford, Bergen or Sigtuna as ?EPEA? conferences, we are conferring this title on them in retrospect, but they were important streams that flowed into the strong river that the EPEA later became. So, also, the ?first? conference at Wiston House in England in July 1984 fed into this process. But was it the first? The English may have planned it as such, but they were beaten to that place in history by Cyprus, where a conference was organised two months earlier, in Nicosia in May 1984.

Cyprus leads the way
So, to my knowledge at least, the very first genuinely international gathering on prison education in Europe took place in the Philoxenia Hotel in Nicosia on 15th to 18th May 1984. It was organised by the Ministry of Justice in Cyprus ?in collaboration with the Council of Europe?, and it had three main themes:
Education inside the prison;
Education of inmates outside the prison;
Education as a means for treatment and rehabilitation.
The context for this Cyprus conference (and the English one two months later at Wiston House) was that the Council of Europe committee on prison education was about to begin its work.

There were participants from 16 countries: Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Presentations were given in English and French, with simultaneous translation throughout. Delegates visited Nicosia Prison, joined the annual dinner dance of the prison staff trade union, and visited Ayia Napa.

Straightening out the numbering
Clearly, the numbering pattern for EPEA conferences is now well established, so that Dublin in 2007 was regarded as the 11th, Cyprus in 2009 is seen as the 12th, and so forth. It should be remembered, however, that this way of classifying things does count early conferences at Wiston House, Oxford and Bergen that are really part of our ?pre-history?, where the roots of the EPEA were formed but the organisation had not yet fully emerged. Yet, Cyprus in May 1984 is part of that formative story also, but it has not been included in our numbering. So, how do we recognise its pioneering contribution without getting into a tangle about changing numbers?

The best solution I can think of is to adopt the Chinese habit of starting to count at ?0? (a habit in American elevators too!). In listing the EPEA conferences and their forerunners, then, we should see Nicosia in May 1984 as ?0?, Wiston House in July 1984 as number 1, Oxford as number 2, etc.  This includes all without changing the numbers, so that the role of honour then reads as follows:

EPEA Conferences
Number, Date and Place

0   15-18 May 1984 Philoxenia Hotel, Nicosia, Cyprus
1   3-5 July 1984  Wiston House, Sussex, England
2   25-28 Sept. 1989 Wadham College, Oxford, England
3   13-16 May 1991 Folk High School, Bergen,The Netherlands
4   14-17 June 1993 Sigtuna, Sweden
5   1-4 October 1995 Coombe Lodge, Blagdon, England
6   1-5 November 1997 Hotel Agro, Budapest, Hungary
7   10-13 October 1999 Athens, Greece
8   10-14 October 2001 Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands
9   14-18 June 2003 Langesund, Norway
10   18-22 May 2005 Boyana Residence, Sofia, Bulgaria
11   13-17 June 2007 Dublin City University, Ireland
12   29 Oct.-1 Nov. 2009 Sunrise Hotel, Protaras, Cyprus.

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