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“Competence-related biographical work in penal institutions—an interview on the use of the ProfilPASS”

ag Susanne Haferburg
Teanga: EN
Document available also in: DE PL

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Original language: German

Before being released, prisoners face the huge challenge of taking their lives into their own hands and envisaging a suitable professional career for themselves. Identifying their own strengths and competencies helps them to see the wide range of job possibilities available to them. ProfilPASS counselling does just that.

As part of a project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the ProfilPASS and the ProfilPASS for young people were developed by the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and the Institute for Development Planning and Structural Research (ies). The objective of both tools is to make users aware of their own competencies so that they can specifically use this knowledge for life planning and professional development. They are supported in this by a professional counselling service provided by qualified ProfilPASS advisors. Competencies acquired through informal learning are the focus in this regard.   


Gefängniszellen (© James Timothy Peters/Pixabay)

The interview was conducted with three ProfilPASS advisors who work in penal institutions in Lower Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate. Their statements have been combined into a single anonymous text.

Why was it decided to use the ProfilPASS (PP) and the ProfilPASS for young people (PPJ) as part of prisoner counselling services?

The bfw (a German vocational training organisation) has been providing training and integration services to prisons for a long time. The bfw coordinates the contents of the project work with the funds provider NBank for the implementation of ESF-funded projects in prisons. This is how they made the joint decision to introduce the ProfilPASS as a suitable means for establishing the competencies of project participants. Additional counselling experience showed that prisoners often lack the confidence to obtain a qualification and make a new path in life for themselves. The fear of failure comes into play here, which has to be overcome step by step.

Which framework conditions were created or must exist in order to provide counselling using these tools in penal institutions?

In Lower Saxony, the participants must have applied as part of a labour market-oriented resocialisation and integration support programme (ARI) and be six months away from release. Regular participation in “training” is compulsory.

At the penal institution in Rhineland-Palatinate participants for the ProfilPASS counselling are decided on an individual case-by-case basis. This decision depends on the person’s attitude as well as on their motivation to actively confront and change their life. 

The counselling is considered in both cases as helping people to help themselves. 

What do you hope to achieve with the use of the PP in penal institutions? What potential do you see in the biographical-oriented work there?

Participants take the time to intensively reflect on their past again. This leads them to realise what they could be capable of when they discover and embrace their competencies. 

Which pass do you use for your target group (PP, PP in plain language or PPJ)?

Both the ProfilPASS and the ProfilPASS for young people are used—the age of the person to be counselled, their level of education, and the language abilities of people with a migration background, are all pivotal factors. The “ProfilPASS in plain language” will also be used as a new tool for counselling in the future.

Are there other tools or methods being used?

Other methods, such as the VIZA method (which emphasises vision, aim and action), the feedback method and direct coaching in preparing for interviews, are also used as part of the counselling.

What particular challenge does the prisoner target group face, aside from the fact that they are currently in the penal institution?

The most diverse, including criminal, aspects come to the fore here: in addition to money problems, issues with family relationships, living situations, drugs, alcohol and mental health all play a big role. Finding just any job for someone is not the purpose of the counselling: the intention is to find them a job that could potentially be a livelihood in the long term. It is certainly helpful when they know that better work can be found with a regular qualification, and this opens up the prospect of being able to permanently move on from the current situation much sooner. The prisoners’ special situation, which often limits their choices, is known and understood by the counsellors.

What are the objectives of the counselling (school leaving qualification, vocational education and training, therapy, preparation for life on the outside, etc.)?

While the positive attitude of wanting to achieve a school leaving qualification is one small step, the increase in self-esteem this brings is a massive one. Later completion of a school leaving qualification and/or completed vocational education and training are important objectives. Preparation for everyday life beyond the correctional facility, interviews, looking for a job and place to live, opening a bank account, etc. are also addressed, practised and supported. We support them where it is needed.

Is integration into normal everyday life more effective if prisoners are counselled and supported?

Yes. The integration is more effective because most prisoners are not familiar with “everyday life”. For a start, life outside has changed, so old behavioural patterns must be permanently broken and support is crucial for this. The support helps when it comes to independently managing everyday life.

Where are the limits to integration particularly apparent? Which measures, training and support still have to be introduced?

For the prisoners, being released means having a complete fresh start. Learning how to manage money is a must, and general questions about everyday life (how do I get to work? how do I get a drivers’ licence?) have to be answered. They also need to get used to their own everyday routines. This requires comprehensive, professional help. In some cases, relationships with family members and friends require socio-pedagogic assistance and support.

Some prisoners come from a migration background and need a language or integration course. Improved language skills facilitate integration into the labour market.

Are there studies into reoffending rates?

In relevant literature and media they talk about an 85% reoffending rate. Counsellors are not aware of the exact numbers, but they know from experience that the reoffending rate is lower if reintegration takes place in a timely and comprehensive manner. If the right job has been found, satisfaction and the likelihood of continuing on this new path increases.

Which prospects do you see and what wishes do you have for the future?

That a more extensive preparation for release be introduced as a permanent measure in prisons, and that problems of life on the outside are addressed and handled. Another wish would be a larger national and international network of counsellors in this environment, so that they can improve their own counselling work by exchanging information and experiences, and explore, develop and offer new ways of counselling. This will help us to increasingly achieve our goal of helping people.

Is there a particular experience in PP work in the penal institution that has stayed with you?

Yes, many positive experiences. A trained paramedic, no longer allowed to exercise his profession after he left prison, was able to make a career out of his hobby thanks to the use of PP. He completed a retraining course as a chef and now puts his skills and knowledge to use in an upmarket hotel.  

About the author: Susanne Haferburg from the German Institute for Adult Education — Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning e.V. conducted the interviews for the ProfilPASS service unit with Andreas Homrich from bfw Hanover and Hermann Möller, c/o JVA, amongst others. Both work as integration coaches in penal institutions.

The ProfilPASS service unit at DIE will be happy to answer any questions. Contact details: 0228 / 3294-326 or

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