Criminal punishment did not deprive them of their right to education. We are talking about prisoners who serve sentences in penitentiary institutions, who, despite being behind bars, continue their studies, receiving secondary or specialized education. Human rights experts urge the authorities to give detainees the opportunity to obtain a higher education (licence or master’s), as well as people in prison – to study in order to acquire a profession that will help them integrate more easily into society after they serve the sentence.
Eugen (editor’s note – the name was changed at the request of the interlocutor) was sentenced in 2012 to twelve years in prison for economic crimes with the execution of the sentence in the semi-closed type Penitentiary no. 2 from Lipcani, Briceni district. He says he ended up in jail by accident. Knowing that he would spend a lot of time behind bars, despite the fact that he had a higher education, he decided to study, to learn another specialty. Thus, he dedicated two of the seven years spent in the penitentiary to professional training.
“When I got here, my father told me: if you can study, do it. I always liked to study and learn something new. Although education in prison was not mandatory, I took the opportunity. First I enrolled in the specialty “carpenter”, and a year later – in the specialty “locksmith-fitter”. The penitentiary provided us with notebooks, pens, pencils. The lessons took place in the usual manner, as on the outside, with teachers from vocational schools, who were coming to the penitentiary. After a year of studies, I also elaborated a thesis, which I defended in front of the commission of the vocational school from Briceni ”, says Eugen.
He says that not all detainees want to study, despite the fact that the educational process is not difficult: “There were about 20 of us, the rest were not very interested. Education usually interests those who already have a certain education”. He was recently released from prison early, but is under the supervision of the probation service. He is convinced that the specialty he learned behind bars will be useful in life. “I don’t have a job yet, but I am sure that everything I’ve learned will be useful in the future. In addition, I didn’t waste my time in vain and it also passed faster. You know what they say: “In prison, a convict must always be busy (laughs), so I chose to study. I advise all detainees to benefit from their right to education” says Eugen.
Choose from 18 specialties offered by 11 vocational schools
There are 17 penitentiary institutions in the Republic of Moldova, where more than 5,700 people are serving their sentences. The convicted persons’ right to education is stipulated by the Executive Code of the Republic of Moldova, and studies are part of the individual program of execution of the sentence, which is established after the assesment of the detainee. Varvara Dohotaru, head of the social reintegration department of the National Administration of Penitentiaries (ANP), the person responsible for education in prison, says that teaching methods in penitentiaries are established by the Ministry of Education, and the administration of each penitentiary ensures the proper conditions for conducting the educational process and ensures the security of teachers during classes.
“Education in penitentiaries takes place at different levels and in different forms. We have a primary education program for detainees who cannot read or write. Another form of education is secondary education for juveniles in detention. Secondary studies are carried out both in preventive detention institutions, for detainees who are on trial, and for detainees transferred to a penitentiary for young offenders. In addition, we offer vocational training, which takes place only in penitentiaries. Our goal is to re-educate and resocialize the detainees. We want the detainee to be able to return to a normal life after his release and return to society. If he needs a specialty, which he could not acquire before his conviction, he can obtain it here. Later, after his release, he will be able to reintegrate more easily into society and will have a bigger chance of finding a job” says V. Dohotaru.
According to ANP, in the academic year 2019-2020, 538 detainees were enrolled in vocational training programs, and 94 juvenile detainees were enrolled in secondary education programs. After completing secondary education, detainees can continue their professional training, choosing one of the 18 specialties offered by 11 vocational schools affiliated to prisons. Upon graduation, those enrolled in the studies can receive diplomas of an electrician, plasterer, carpenter, baker, tailor, barber, etc. The advantage for graduates is that the educational document does not indicate the fact that they received their diploma in a penitentiary.
Prison education facilitates the social reintegration of detainees
Human rights expert and member of the UN Committee against Torture, Ana Racu, says that ensuring the security of detainees and their social reintegration are the two main objectives of the penitentiary system. “Education is the foundation of social reintegration, which is why it is so important, it is a bridge through which a person, who has been isolated for some time, can return home more prepared. Through educational programs, whether in the field of general or vocational education, studies contribute to increasing the level of knowledge, obtaining skills and abilities for persons deprived of their liberty. This opportunity should be used. Education is not just a requirement or an additional feature in the penitentiary environment, but an internationally guaranteed right, stated in international treaties and norms in the field of respecting the rights of detainees, such as: Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Council of Europe member states regarding European prison rules and the UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” says the expert. Ana Racu recommends authorities to offer detainees the opportunity to obtain a higher education, especially now, in the context of the pandemic, when several higher education institutions offer distance learning or online courses.
Translation: Dan Erușevschi