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EPALE - ríomhArdán d’Fhoghlaim Aosach san Eoraip

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The freedom of learning in law enforcement

ag CONEDU Austria
Teanga: EN
Document available also in: DE

Educational offers in Austrian law enforcement

Inmates in detention facilities are with an above-average frequency people without completion of training or school-leaving qualification. Though, completed training increases the job prospects and thus the chances for (re-)integration once the detention is over. Accordingly, education in law enforcement is seen as a means for re-socialisation.

In Austria, all prisons maintain their own operations and workshops; individual prisons also have their own vocational schools. Here, they cooperate with the labour market service to perform shortened apprenticeship training in different handicraft trades. In some facilities, the inmates can catch up on their compulsory schooling. Basic education, language and computer courses are added to the offer.

Specialised courses represent a further, shorter training path. They are mostly offered together with the Vocational Training Institutes (BFI) or the Institutes for Economic Development (WIFI) and involve languages, EDP or working with machines or in the catering trade. Many facilities also offer the chance to obtain the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). E-learning, too, has meanwhile become a widespread possibility, and distance-learning courses can likewise be taken.

ELIS: Online learning in the penal system

In the penal system, too, the learning opportunities continue to increase with digitalisation. Since here, however, complete Internet access means a high safety risk, special technical solutions are needed. The Institut für Bildung in der Informationsgesellschaft gGmbH (IBI – Institute for Education in the Information Society) in Berlin has been working for the penal system for many years and also operates the learning platform ELIS (“E-learning in the penal system”). Austria, too, uses this platform and thus offers the detainees more than 200 learning offers and programmes for general and vocational education, a comprehensive media library, including reference work, and access to the portal “” (I want to learn).

What is different at the detention facility?

Learning in the penal system is different and linked with special barriers. Here, disproportionally many early school leavers with discontinuous biographies meet. In addition, they are in an inhibited, confined situation – are provided for, but also controlled around the clock. The detention facility offers them a learning environment with high stability, however, standardisation is just as high. Voluntary adult learning has a different meaning in law enforcement than outside, and the special socialisation in enforcement (prisonisation) can increase the resistance against authorities. At the same time, a facility, which is as strongly focussing on security as a detention facility, must interpret its “service orientation” differently than a WIFI, for example.

It’s a success when it’s working nevertheless

The fact, that learning on a large scale is nevertheless also possible in law enforcement, is demonstrated by successful projects from Austria. For example, in 2012, the detention facility in Vienna-Simmering was awarded the Anton-Benya Prize as a training centre for future skilled workers. It has more than 17 in-house operations, in which the inmates work and also can receive intensive skilled labour training, and that in a wide range of professions. Until the award in 2012, around 380 inmates had obtained an apprenticeship certificate at the detention facility in Vienna-Simmering, and there still are successful apprenticeship certificates on a regular basis, among them such ones with outstanding success.

Voluntariness and motivation as prerequisite

In 2011, the Graz lawyer Monika Tamisch published her dissertation about training and continuing education measures in the Austrian penal system. The empirical core of this work is formed by a questionnaire survey and a number of interviews at the detention facilities in Graz-Karlau (for adults) and Gerasdorf near Vienna (for adolescents).

In that, it was demonstrated that the inmates at both facilities were satisfied with the training. For the adolescents and young adults in Gerasdorf, this satisfaction was clearly higher still. They also perceived the training as more contemporary and estimated their own job prospects higher. Tamisch explains this, among other things, with the training access: in Gerasdorf, the adolescents have to apply for an apprenticeship, sometimes even take an acceptance test. Voluntariness and motivation are still important for learning, even in detention.

Conclusion: what education in detention can achieve

In total, (vocational) education has proven itself as a necessary, but not as a sufficient measure for successful integration. Inmates with a higher initial qualification and a shorter “criminal career” benefit more from education in law enforcement. International recommendations advise detention as open as possible for training purposes. Work training and job coaching also are to facilitate the entry into working life after the detention. And of course, adult education has a very different potential in law enforcement, too: for example, for the purpose of stabilising the identity and personality – or also a training of empathy and social skills.

The European ideal

In 1989 already, the Council of Europe passed a number of recommendations for the training of detained persons in Europe. These include the recommendation, that learning offers in the penal system should be as equal as possible to those outside, and that the day release for educational purposes is to be supported, if possible. In 2006, European principles for the penal system were published, which now belong to the widely accepted standards for all EU countries. The further promotion and development of education in Europe’s prisons is represented by the European Prison Education Association (EPEA), a European NGO.

Further information

Further sources used:

Schweder, Marcel (2013): Jugendliche Inhaftierte als potenzielle Fachkräfte - eine Diskurs aus pädagogischer und berufsdidaktischer Sicht. In: Becker, Matthias / Grimm, Axel / Petersen, Willi / Schlausch, Reiner (Eds.): Kompetenzorientierung und Strukturen gewerblich-technischer Berufsausbildung. Berlin: LIT Verlag.

Müller-Dietz, Heinz (2011): Weiterbildung von Strafgefangenen. In: Tippelt/Hippel (Eds.). Handbuch Erwachsenenbildung/Weiterbildung

Image source: Erika Wittlieb/CC0/Public Domain

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