The detention of a convicted person in a penitentiary has only one fundamental purpose: to correct and reintegrate him into society. This is a complex process that requires a proper approach. This approach involves the analysis of his personality and background, in order to identify his needs and develop an individual plan for the execution of the criminal sentence, in which the main role is played by prison education.
If we analyze the level of education of convicted persons, we notice that out of the total number of 5717, only 156 have a higher education, which constitutes 2.73%. They are followed by 63 people, who have an incomplete higher education (1.1%), 489 detainees (8.55%), who have a specialized secondary education, 1708 (29.88%) – secondary education, most have an incomplete secondary education – 2941 persons, which constitute 51.44% of the total number of convicted detainees, followed by 283 (4.95%) persons who only have a primary education and 77 (1.35%) – illiterate detainees.
However, regardless of the level of education, prison education is an absolutely crucial element for every convicted person. Detention in the environment and conditions of the penitentiaries of the Republic of Moldova seriously affects the personality of convicts and only the involvement in a process of continuous development can stop this degradation. The existence of the criminal subculture and ideology, which promotes principles and values different from those of modern society, affects the perception and attitude of the convict towards life and the surrounding world. The lack of information and intellectual activity weakens the potential and skills of the detainee, practically depriving him of the perspective of a successful professional activity at freedom and, thus, of a successful reintegration into society. In this case, only education can contribute to maintaining integrity, developing skills, increasing potential and cultivating the right values for the detainee.
In other cases, education may fill some gaps, which may be the main cause of a criminal way of life and, respectively, of being in prison. The lack of education may be one of these gaps. People who come from vulnerable families, who have not received a decent upbringing, who have not had the opportunity to obtain a quality education, gain professional experience, develop certain skills, in other words, who do not meet the high standards of society and can’t claim a decent place in it, possibly resorted to a criminal way of life as an alternative. This is applicable to the absolute majority of convicts in Moldova. If we analyze their background, we will certainly find that they did not receive the necessary set for a successful start in life. This is where the penitentiary system should step in and fill all these gaps, to ensure that the convicted person will receive the necessary knowledge and support in order to have a chance to live a decent life and become a fully-fledged member of society. If this does not happen, then the criminal punishment does not reach its goal, making the detention in the penitentiary ineffective, creating the vicious circle of reoffending and representing a useless expenditure of the state budget.
The right to education is a fundamental human right, which must be respected even in the conditions of detention in a penitentiary. Is it respected in the Republic of Moldova? Yes, but the offered opportunities are far from satisfactory. The education that can be obtained in penitentiaries is limited to only a few professions, such as plasterer, floorlayer, etc. The penitentiary system does not offer the possibility to obtain a higher or secondary education, or to conduct distance learning. However, if at the moment it is too ambitious to talk about higher education, the first step would be providing the minimum necessary for a person to reintegrate into society: secondary education, knowledge and skills (planning, setting and effective execution of tasks, time management, completing a CV, good manners in society, communication culture, etc.), values and a pro-social attitude.
Unfortunately, the penitentiary system of the Republic of Moldova does not have sufficient human resources to provide the services and opportunities mentioned above, so it should implement distance learning. This is a good practice, already used by many countries of the world, which has proven to be highly effective and does not require many resources, so it can be applied in Moldova as well. Distance learning opens up wide opportunities and the cost-benefit ratio justifies the effort that must be made to implement such a practice in our penitentiary system. First of all, it offers access to a wide range of specialists who can provide educational services. Secondly, it broadens the spectrum of specialized courses, vocational training, that convicts can receive. Thus, the penitentiary system could train specialists in different fields, which is constitutes another important benefit for society. Another successful strategy, used worldwide, is the involvement of NGOs in the educational process of convicts. These organizations have specialists with various skills, so they can cover a wider area of the needs of detainees. This strategy has proven its effectiveness in the Republic of Moldova as well, within the project of the Therapeutic Community “Catharsis”, which has very good results in its short period of activity. The success indicators of the penitentiary system represent the ability to transform a person’s criminal way of life into a beneficial activity for society and a low level of reoffending. Thus, all the relevant structures should amplify their efforts to change the objectively mediocre level of Moldova’s success indicators in this regard.
However, apart from legislation, budget, human resources, logistics, we must bear in mind the most important factor, which is not only the responsibility of relevant structures and institutions, but of the entire society – the attitude towards (ex)convicted persons. Attitude is an absolutely crucial element and the starting point in achieving the purpose of criminal punishment. A person who has come into conflict with the law and has subsequently been convicted should not be perceived as an enemy of the state or as a negative person, who should be isolated from society for as long as possible. Definitely NOT. He must be perceived as any other person, who has the fundamental rights guaranteed by the state and the European Convention on Human Rights. To err is human and every person deserves another chance. People, who are in such a difficult and vulnerable period of life need understanding, support and guidance, and certainly not to be blamed, humiliated and ignored. He must be treated appropriately both during detention and during reintegration into society. Respectively, if the penitentiary system has the responsibility of correcting and providing a fully-fledged personality to society, it, in turn, has the responsibility of accepting and supporting him. Change has to start in every one of us, in society and in state bodies overall and it begins with attitude. When we will have a correct attitude towards (ex)convicted persons, the rest will become just technical details, the solution of which will no longer be a problem.
It is fair for every person to have the right to a decent life, to well-being, to self-realization. For this, each person must receive the necessary minimum, which offers a successful start and the appropriate opportunities in life. This is the ultimate mission of the penitentiary system and education is the path to success.
Translation: Dan Erușevschi