Special Education in Norwegian Prisons

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The aim of this study has been to gain insight as to how the right to special education is preserved within the education offered to inmates in Norwegian prisons. By interviewing five heads of school departments in some of Norway’s biggest prisons, the current study found that special education is offered to a small degree. The absence of special education is explained with the fact that education within prisons is organized in a completely different manner than the education offered outside prison. This enables a possibility to adapt teaching to each individual student within the context of ordinary education. The current study discusses whether good possibilities to adapt the education to each individual is enough to depreciate the need of special education. Furthermore, it examines whether students’ rights are indeed fulfilled when there are so few examples of special education within prison education.

Link to story (in Norwegian):

https://utdanningsforskning.no/artikler/2024/spesialundervisning-i-norske-fengsel

Remarks from the study (Google translate)

Training within correctional services is about the future, both directly and indirectly. It is about the inmates’ future, because it is about equipping inmates to cope with life and to participate in society and working life (Education Act, 1998). Furthermore, it is about society’s future, because education in prison helps to limit relapse into crime (Davis, 2013; Ellison et al., 2017; Kim et al., 2021; Kim & Clark, 2013). When we know that learning difficulties have a close connection with crime and with relapse into crime, it should always be a goal to strengthen the quality of the education provided, especially for students with learning difficulties. Therefore, a discussion is also needed about how special education can be carried out in training within the correctional service in a good way.

Another aspect in this discussion is the extent to which the lack of special education may be one of the reasons why there are many inmates who choose not to use the education offered in prison because their own difficulties with reading, writing and arithmetic are perceived to be so great (Eikeland et al. ., 2022). This may indicate that the training within the correctional service has several challenges. One concerns the inmates who receive training, and the extent to which special educational needs are taken care of; the second concerns the extent to which barriers linked to both diagnosed and undiagnosed learning difficulties prevent participation in the training; and the third concerns the extent to which these two are connected. Could the lack of assessment of the need for special education and the processes it entails with mapping and expert assessment of PPT, be a factor that results in lower participation in training within the correctional service? Turned upside down: Can the inmates’ security that special educational needs are followed up within training in the correctional service, lead to more people taking training when they are in prison?

On a more general level, the challenges in correctional services are multifaceted. Some inmates have major substance abuse problems, many inmates struggle with mental health, and others need help to improve their living conditions after completing their sentence, which involves a coordinating effort from NAV to find housing after serving their sentence (Riksrevisjonen, 2022). An area of ​​focus proposed by the National Audit Office (2022) is that all inmates should be surveyed with BRIK (Needs and resource planning in correctional facilities). BRIK is a tool that maps inmates’ needs at an overall level (for example living conditions, substance abuse and mental health), and also training needs. At the time of writing, it is unknown to what extent the training needs are included in this survey. Our investigation shows that it can appear random who is surveyed and who is not. Considering the degree of learning difficulties among inmates in Norwegian prisons, it would perhaps be appropriate to take a systematic approach to surveying both the inmates who choose to participate in training and those who do not.