Prison(er) education

Prisoners’ education has a history of at least 200 years, as it essentially follows the history of the institution of prison itself. However, as a separate institution, it seems to have been developed and spread after the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, since the establishment of the prison institution, which is a feature of the modern period of history, the idea of turning prisons into schools arose as well. This idea has always been discussed in the context of the dialogue on reforming prison policies, albeit without results (Behan, 2014).
In recent years, since the second half of the 20th century, prison has tended to be seen as a place not of punishment, but of isolation from the society of the person who broke the law. The aim is correcting him; that is, preparing him for reintegration into society as a responsible person who will avoid recidivism (Papastamatis, 2010). Therefore, the education taking place in the detention center/prison is considered a means, or a dimension, of the general process of imprisonment, which is, after all, the purpose of incarceration. Thus, it is hoped that the successful social reintegration of the prisoner will occur -a life in society without new delinquency, without recidivism- while, of course, social reintegration in the sense of imprisonment begins from the first day of incarceration.

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A milestone in the history of promoting prison education are usually considered to be two texts of the Council of Europe, the European Prison Rules (Council of Europe, 1987, rev. 2006) and the Recommendations on “Education in Prison” (Council of Europe, 1990), which, generally, made clear the need for the implementation of anthropocentric and sociocentric education in prison. Since then, the education of detainees, in addition to being a field cultivated under the care of Justice/Civil Protextion and Education policies (in the national, international and supranational context, see European Commission, 2011), has been the subject of scientific research, as well as of many associations and unions operating in a large number of countries. It should be noted here that the literature provides evidence of a positive correlation between reduced delinquency and participation in educational programs that meet the specific characteristics of detainees (Papastamatis, 2010). However, this change in the view of prison and education within prison should not, of course, be considered to be a rule of global educational policy. It is a dominant theoretical view, but it finds resistance in practice.
Prisoners, men, and women (as well as released prisoners) are the most vulnerable group, because, despite the good intentions of the law, the prison is a place of “rejection, de-socialization … and total liquidation of human rights” (Gasuka, 2007 , 233). Those who have come into “contact” with the criminal justice system are undoubtedly stigmatized by what this entails both for the social environment and their pre-existing relationships (eg family) as well as for reintegration and vocational rehabilitation (Gasuka , 2007).
As a target group, prisoners are distinguished by certain specific characteristics such as (Gasuka, 2007): a) institutionalization, b) lack of basic, social skills, c) low professional profile, d) lack of education and employment opportunities, e) the use of addictive substances, and f) the disruption of family life. The prison creates additional difficult living conditions due to phenomena such as overcrowding, non-segregation of prisoners, drug use, lack of specialized staff and insufficient professional profile of prison staff and lack of alternative ways of serving the sentence. Prisoners take on specific roles and behaviors due to circumstances, such as behavior marked by violence, isolation, inaction. If before – or of course, after release – prisoners are given the opportunity to participate in the learning process, as well as the prospect of vocational rehabilitation, then it is possible to change their attitude towards themselves and society, realistic perceptions, avoiding recurrence. Remaining in prison means confinement, social isolation and unemployment, situations that accompany prisoners after their release from society, while the lack of structures inside and outside the prison to support and reintegrate prisoners, of employer awareness structures, of post-penitentiary structures, of collective organizations of ex-prisoners is obvious.
It should be noted that the implementation of adult education in practice depends on many independent variables. First of all, the way one (we, the state, the authorities, etc.) perceives the importance and contribution of prisoner education is related to their ideology about the role and function of prison (Behan, 2014). But also the way we perceive the functioning of the prison depends on our view of the causes of delinquent behavior, which also includes a variety of perspectives (Papastamatis, 2010). Finally, the form in which prison education will be implemented depends on the definition we give to the concept of prison education – this means that there are several such definitions and therefore a variety of educational programs are designed and implemented, respectively (Costelloe, 2014).
As for the reintegration as a process that takes place inside the prison, there is the well-known typology of Rotman (1986), which Behan (2014) has followed in his work. Rotman makes the most important distinction between anthropocentric and authoritarian reintegration and imprisonment. Of these two versions, the anthropocentric one actually has much in common and shares the goals of prison education as an aspect of adult education aiming at critical thinking, reflection, and personal awareness. In the latter case, however, this is not exactly a reintegration, but rather an outdated correction, linked to ideas of reducing costs, decreasing crime and increasing public confidence in the penal system. The first form, that is, the one associated with adult education, respects the independence of the incarcerated, recognizes them as potential change agents, understands the social and cultural factors of social deviation, and does not seek to make them comply with a pattern of thought and behavior. The second one has, therefore, a completely different targeting.
Two different sets of assumptions are also identified in the theory of human delinquency (Papastamatis, 2010). On the one hand, it is the view that goes back to Socrates and argues that people are basically good and moral and break the law out of ignorance or because of social conditions. The other assumption stems from Christian teaching and advocates that man is by nature imperfect and sinful. Without having to go into details of these assumptions, let’s just point out here how each set of assumptions perceives the solution of the problem differently. The first considers that delinquency and crime are corrected by changing social conditions rather than by punishing the individual. Imprisonment offers mere criminal restraint and minimal correction. Therefore, prisons should strive to provide a humane living environment and focus on education, which will give people access to power and the ability to change their identity. The second believes that people by nature have antisocial behavior and therefore need to learn to live together through socialization and social control. In both cases, however, we see that the responsibility ultimately falls on the individual and that the offender becomes the object. However, a change of identity occurs only when the person is considered a subject, that is, when the peculiarities of the prisoners are fully recognized. When a person is considered a subject, they can also be considered a citizen.
The motivation of prisoners’ participation in education is a popular topic in the literature, and rightly so. A plethora of different motivations are recorded and data identified to coincide with the data provided by the research in the category “objectives and results” (of prison education). Here we will limit ourselves to a recent categorization by Behan (2014), who points out prisoners’ motives are often multilevel, but also changing in the course of their studies. We refer to Behan here, as his conclusions coincide with those of the wider literature.
The first category of incentives is called “preparation for release». Prisoners are trained to acquire skills and knowledge that they did not have before incarceration. They look forward to a productive life after imprisonment. They recognize the low level of education as a general feature of all prisoners, due to which they were trapped in unemployment, underemployment, and unskilled manual labor before their incarceration. Prisoners in this category see education as useful and rather emphasize the need for vocational training.
The second category is called “killing the time”. These prisoners see education as a strategy to tackle prison, but in particular to tackle the damage that prison causes as a coercive, totalitarian institution. Acquiring skills is not a priority.
The third category is called “escaping from the prison”. In this case, the detainees seek to be in a space of the penitentiary, which is more pleasant than the prison itself and where they do not feel imprisoned. A big plus in this category is the fact that detainees come in contact with a type of staff that does not belong to the institution of prison; that is with teachers. Prisoners are treated as students, not the other way around, and the benefits are even greater when the school is in a different building. This category is especially important if one considers the much-discussed opposition between the two cultures, this of education and that of incarceration, which are essentially opposing each other. While in school, prisoners are “absent” from prison and its authoritarian climate. This category is very important for another reason: it seems that the oppression of the prison has not stifled the initiative of the prisoner-student.
The other category is called “transformation”. Prisoners in this category recognize the desire or need, even if it is not their primary goal, to engage in education for the purpose of transformation, which of course is not achieved only through education. Student-inmates show interest in the world around them and work together to develop social relationships, which are the result of their voluntary decision rather than an imperative instruction from above.
The last category is called “agency and change”. In this category, the inmate-student has already been involved in a critical, according to Mezirow (e.g.: 2000), thinking process, as he wants to change his frame of reference and acquire new ones. The detainee in this category does not comply but takes action to change (his perspectives).
It should be noted that prisoners generally come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and minorities, and this seems to be the case worldwide. Although crime does not belong on the margins of social phenomena and is not the privilege of the underprivileged, it is nevertheless a fact that members of the underprivileged are the ones who are more easily arrested and convicted, as the “powerful” people often escape arrest etc. At the same time, these individuals are distinguished for their low level of education (Papastamatis, 2010). However, prisoners have their own history and their own experiences, values and knowledge, as well as their own educational needs. In whatever prison they find themselves, they are closely connected to the lives they were leading before their incarceration. Therefore, prisoners cannot be recognized by education as having only one general profile. Each of them has unique characteristics that are inserted and must be used in the educational process (Reuss, 2005). Accordingly, the education provided must be holistic.
From this holistic point of view, the education of prisoners needs to cultivate the knowledge, skills, values and motivations that are necessary for the positive citizenship. By accepting this, we accept the transformative power of education, especially in terms of personal development and social capital (Costelloe, 2014). It is therefore clear that prison education should not be limited to certain basic or professional skills, which of course are prerequisites; no one doubts their value. Nor should we be cautious in providing it because of the cost.
Prison education has as its main goal transformation and personal development (Costelloe & Warner, 2014). The prisoner must find the voice and speak out, but to speak the needs empowerment. “Empowerment is the process that aims for any person in a state of marginalization and dependence to handle themselves independently, to communicate creatively and effectively with other participants in the same system and to take an active part in the labor market and the wider social becoming” (Papastamatis, 2010).
As follows from the above analysis, the education of prisoners can only require from the educators a specific profile and the use of appropriate techniques. According to a comprehensive list of characteristics and properties (Gasuka, 2007), prison educators need to distance themselves from the web of stereotypes and prejudices about the prison world. They must also have the ability to manage difficult issues leading to conflict, as well as of understanding that the target group lives in severe conditions of exclusion and that there is significant heterogeneity and a low level of education. In addition, they must use simple speech, listen carefully to the prisoners’ speech, show interest in them without evaluating the truth of the allegations, understand that the prisoners’ experience affects the learning process in various ways, be guided by the ability to create discussion and dialogue, cooperate with various bodies and so on. The groups of incarcerated learners mainly require a counseling approach and participatory pedagogy. Thus, prison educators must be careful in planning activities, record carefully the evolution of the climate in the group, use a kind of “peer-to-peer method”, so that the more educated help the less educated, ensure the active participation of members of the group and especially of those with low education and self-esteem. In terms of techniques, brainstorming, the working groups, the combination of suggestions and questions-answers, the discussion, the role-play are particularly preferred.

REFERENCES (valid throughout the paper)
Behan, C. (2014). Learning to Escape: Prison Education, Rehabilitation and the Potential for Transformation. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 1, 1, 20-31.
Costelloe, A. (2014). Prison education: Principles, Policies, Provision. In: Tania Czerwinski, Eva König, Tatyana Zaichenko (Eds). Youth and Adult Education in Prisons Experiences from Central Asia, South America, North Africa and Europe. International Perspectives in Adult Education 69.
Costelloe, A. & Warner, K. (2014). Prison Education across Europe: policy, practice, politics. London Review of Education, 12, 2, 175-183.
Council of Europe (1987, 2006). European Prison Rules. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
Council of Europe (1990). Education in Prison. Recommendation No. R (89) 12 adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 13 October 1989. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
European Commission (2011). Prison education and training in Europe – a review and commentary of existing literature, analysis and evaluation. Brussels: Education and Culture DG
Gasuka, M. (2007) Educational techniques for prisoners and released prisoners. Educational material for the instructors of theoretical training, volume II, EKEPIS. Athens
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to Think Like and Adult: Core Concepts of Transformation. In: Mezirow (ed.), Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Papastamatis, Α. (2010). Adult Education for vulnerable social groups. Sideris. (in Greek).
Reuss, A. (2005). Prison Education. In: International Encyclopedia of Adult Education. New York, Palgrave-Macmillan.
Rotman, E. (1986). Do Criminal Offenders have a Constitutional Right to Rehabilitation? Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 77, 29-35.

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An innovative learning environment

Our perspective that led us to the proposal and ultimately to the implementation of this project stems from three main starting points: First, from the recommendation of the Council of Europe to provide prisoners with the education of exactly the same value as that provided in regular educational institutions outside prison (Council of Europe, 1990); secondly, from the what scholars find to be of value on the type and content of the education to be provided (Reuss, 2005) and, thirdly, from the concept of an innovative learning environment. We will now describe in detail the third factor.

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Innovative learning environment
The contemporary notion of innovative learning environment is dominant in current educational theory. According to Kalantzis & Cope (2012), today the educator is considered an expert in pedagogy and a designer of learning environments that give the student an active role in his learning. Nowadays, the purpose is to create environments that allow students to learn by collaborating with each other and with the teacher. The teacher/educator must design programs that touch students with different experiences and identities, based on the idea of attractiveness and usefulness of learning, so that learning and the real world are connected. In this context, the educated themselves produce knowledge of all kinds, while all together they are integrated into a process of planning, implementation, and evaluation. At the same time, digital learning systems do not copy traditional educational relationships and practices, but are based on the principle “the medium is not necessarily the message”. As can also be seen from the observations of others, the concept of the learning environment is organic and holistic (OECD, 2013). It refers to an open learning ecosystem that includes both the learning that takes place and the setting, the context, the physical, and the digital. Therefore, the protagonists enter and take part in it with their own social profile, while the whole process is a mixture of perspectives ranging from traditional direct teaching to discovery learning. In this case, the innovation is directly related to the space/place where it is used and implies a change in one or, rather, in all the factors of learning such as: the contents, the resources, the teachers, the educational organization, etc. Of course, it is unnecessary to emphasize that the concerns for the new learning environments are also a major theme for the particular field of adult education as well (Bennett & Bell, 2010).
Bennett, E. & Bell, A. (2010). Paradox and Promise in the Knowledge Society. In: Kasworm, C., Rose, A. & Ross-Gordon, J. (eds). Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education.
Kalantzis, M & Cope, B. (2012). New learning – Elements of a science of education. Cambridge.
OECD, 2013). Innovative Learning Environments. Paris

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Prisoners’ transformation

Prison is recognized as a very difficult environment, a dystopian one, as it is commonly called, unknown to most people. As has been seen before, the education provided within it is first and foremost – for those who understand it that way – compensation to the prison culture and opportunity to take action for their own good, before anything else. We must not forget that, according to the recommendations of international organizations, in-prison education can be considered even mandatory from one point of view, given that in international declarations, such as of the UN, but also in the constitutions of most countries, education is everyone’s right. So, if it is everyone’s right, then the state is obliged to offer it. Of course, as mentioned above, educational policies do not share this opinion. The reason is that they ignore the value of education and a basic doctrine according to which: if you become a criminal because you learned it, then the opposite is true as well; you can forget it and learn to be not a criminal (Papastamatis, 2010).

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While there is no doubt that the prison curriculum should be broad, in our project we focus on a specific aspect, on its humanitarian character. For humanistic studies can make a person change the way they perceive the world and cultivate a moral conscience in them (Papastamatis, 2010). As prison education should be the same as out-of-prison education, it should aim at the overall development of the student-prisoner. Necessary in this context is the development of the ability to think critically and to prevent the development of dogmatic perceptions. Student-prioners should be aware of alternatives to competitive situations (Papastamatis, 2010). In order to be a full person, one needs to acquire new values that will guide their behavior in the future.

Avoiding moral preaching
It is, in this context, very important to realize that “education cannot be an idealistic preaches, but an awakening in the prisoner of a deep awareness of his relationship with the rest of society, which will lead to a genuine sense of social responsibility” (Rotman, 1986). Therefore, prison education cannot be a correctional procedure that wants to make the prisoner reject his anti-social behavior at once, which is not ruled out. However, it is preferable for education to promote new values, logic and positive attitudes towards life in the prisoner, since in this way prisoners acquire the identity of a citizen and can now also contribute to society’s development.

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An unconventional way

What are the components that would be suitable to make up “something” new in order to satisfy the above mentioned goals? Our spectrum of inspiring sources has been wide containing mainly:

  • what adult education didactics teaches us about the best ways of teaching adults (primary and secondary learning experience and student- and group-centered teaching)
  • the 3D/virtual reality and

some other fields like the documentary theater, the idea of “rooms” and the (biographical) case method of teaching.

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Teaching adults
Adult teaching has been the subject of several textbooks. Our perspective is based on that of Jarvis (2004, 2010), who has provided a comprehensive framework (which is even reproduced in the literature). We believe that this framework is almost entirely valid for the prison education.
Adult teaching – and now all kinds of teaching regardless of age – must be distinguished for its moral character and focus on the development of the learner, in order to develop his own way of interpreting and understanding the world. This is the basic principle of modern teaching, and from it derives the notion of student-centeredness in education, which needs – but always according to the particular case – to be more pronounced in adult education. Although adult education does not reject the didactic model, student-centeredness has been its main feature (although, on the other hand, it is now argued that not every child is the same as well).
Student-centrism can be group and individual, depending on the case. Experience, as is reasonable, plays an important role in experiential education/teaching and learning. Jarvis (2010) makes the important distinction between primary and secondary experience. Although the limits are not strict, the first form is essentially all daily life, while the second traditionally characterizes education itself. However, the aim of the teacher today is to transfer the idea of the primary experience as best as possible in the educational-school environment. This is, of course is not possible, but can be done to some extent. The narration of a real story by the teacher is e.g. such an instance. In this context, we consider that the virtual reality clearly offers a first-class opportunity for such experiences that approach the primary nature of the experience.
Meanwhile, these observations can be easily combined with a multitude of other approaches (methods, techniques, perspectives, etc.) which are not easily distinguished from each other. We are interested in the following: the problem-solving method, the case study in teaching with an emphasis on a person’s biography, teamwork, simulation and role play, psycho-drama and socio-drama.
As is well known, experiential methods are not for everyone. At least some people – perhaps many in number – want their time, but also other conditions (mainly psychological), to be able to participate in experiential learning. Here the educator is called to intervene, who will understand the situation (which is also an important learning experience for himself) and in collaboration with the student will think of a solution. It is clear that if the student does not want to participate, he leaves.
Virtual reality
Virtual Reality is defined as the use of technological means to create an artificial, interactive environment “which in its optimal form the human-user perceives as real.” Important is the user’s ability to interact, through which the environment changes in real time, as it does in the real world. “The Virtual Environment can be created in correspondence with an existing or imaginary world”. Examples from the literature include: the transfer of a ship’s command space to familiarize the crew with the controls, or the creation of an imaginary city in space, which the user can navigate.
The technological means used to create a virtual world include computers (hardware and software for composing and controlling the virtual world) and peripherals (for user interaction), while the interaction can involve all the senses (vision, hearing and touch).
According to the literature (see below) the characteristics of virtual reality can be summarized in 3I (in English): Immersion, Inter-action and Information Intensity. Immersion is the degree to which the user feels that he is really in the virtual environment and not the real one. Communication-Interaction refers to the ability of the computer to “directly shape the synthetic world depending on the human-user movements”. Interactivity (as a measure of interaction) concerns not only the speed of the computer’s response, but also the computer’s ability to respond to the natural forms of human-user communication. Finally, Information Intensity refers not only to the abundance of information, but also to the variety of communication channels from which information is offered to the user (optical, audio, tactile, etc.).
Stereoscopic viewing technologies, directly related to virtual reality systems, are being used daily on television for three-dimensional movie watching. Virtual reality technologies are beginning to find practical application in different areas of everyday life. “Systems that allow teleconferencing to a public, virtual space for all participants, presentation of buildings that have not yet been built to prospective buyers, phobia treatment systems, applications for better preparation of athletes, etc.” Experts believe that in the future there will be both new applications and devices that will leverage virtual reality technologies “to offer new, more immersive experiences to users.”
Lepouras, G., Antoniou, Α., Platis, Ν., Charitos, D. 2015. Introduction into Virtual Reality. In: Lepouras, G., Antoniou, Α., Platis, Ν., Charitos, D. 2015. Development of virtual reality systems. [e-book] Athens ( (In Greek).

Some other inspirations
We describe here a number of other sources that inspired us in our project. One of them is the documentary theater. It is clear that our approach is not documentary theater. But it shares with it its basic principle, which is that it is based on authentic material. In other words, just as a documentary play is a play that reflects – often even faithfully – reality and brings it to the viewer, so we would like to offer students – through virtual reality – something authentic, something taken from life itself. To this end, we have decided to collect authentic stories, a process that potentially involves a virtual communication between prisoners in various European countries. So the stories are true and that gives great added value to our attempt.
Finally, the term room must be discussed. This term comes from “Situation Rooms”, an unconventional and highly politicized live theatre game, created in 2014 by Rimini Protokoll, a leading European pioneering team, which expanded as much as anyone else the concept of documentary theater. It is a team of writers-directors based in Berlin, which works with various theatrical forms in order to reduce or completely eliminate the distance between performers and the audience. “Situation Rooms” brings together 20 people from various continents, whose lives have been shaped by the use of weapons, in a cinematic setting that recreates the globalized world of pistols and grenade launchers, authoritarians and refugees, routes and unexpected encounters. The setting consists of a huge space with autonomous rooms. With the personal narratives of their “residents”, the images begin to move and viewers follow their individual paths through their individual cameras and headphones. They begin to live in the building themselves and live for 90 minutes the lives of others, following the personal perspective of the protagonists. The audience penetrates deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of the cinematic setting and each becomes part of the representation of an elaborate cinematic shoot with multiple simultaneous perspectives. “Situation Rooms” is a fascinating multi-cinema, augmented reality, three-dimensional insofar as only theater can be, and this approach was the basis for proposing STEPs. STEPs is based on the theatrical “Situation Rooms” turning it into Virtual Reality (VR). VR rooms are more flexible for use in school prisons and help-centers for ex-inmates or for related structures. Viewers here live the lives of others, following the perspective of the protagonists through the VR film.

Finding a gap and our desire to fill it – The application for funding
After a long process of pre-exploration and based on what has already been mentioned in Chapters 2 and 3, we found out that there were several reasons why it was possible and purposeful to proceed with the construction of a new tool or method. The new method could combine elements from all the approaches to which we referred so far. The goals that we pursued for it were that the prisoners:
• participate in learning and
• collaborate with each other in order
• to reflect as deeply as possible,
• towards, first, forming positive attitudes towards change,
• and then committing themselves to change and
• get, finally, themselves ready for a new life.
In this spirit we applied to the Greek agency for Erasmus+, the IKY. The application was approved.

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The STEPs method

The contemporary theory of project design and implementation (Funnel & Rogers, 2011) emphasizes the importance of the construction of the project’s logic model, which guides and directs the project, as well as of the clarification of the change that it (a project, an intervention, a social, educational etc. policy) promises (=theory of change). Both of these parameters are important, as it is against them that the impact of the project, especially in the long term, is assessed. In this section we deal with these two aspects. These parameters constitute the philosophy of the project and of the method. This philosophy was contained in the application for funding the program and must be well understood by anyone involved in the project.

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The objective: acquiring life skills

Incarceration is meaningful for prisoners as long as they change themselves in order to start a new life. Change and transformation are key-words for prisoners, as we have already shown.

Change and a new life, at least in the form of planning a new life, should start to take place already within prison, so that beginning the new life is possible immediately after release. The danger of recidivism is there and waiting. Life after imprisonment is of course not easy at all, since it depends on many factors. But one important among them is surely the identity of prisoner who now needs to take the right decisions in order to become again a member of society and live in harmony with others.

All over the world many prisoners remain without help. Suffice to think of prisons where even provision of elementary conditions of living is unimaginable. There, incarceration is simply punishment and we do not want this anymore in the current thinking about correction and rehabilitation.

Prison education seems to be an important factor in correction and should not be considered a luxury.  But what can we do?

It is, of course, needless to say that in a prison educational framework we should always look for new ways to help prisoners reflect and change. With this in mind we have sought a new original educational programme – a method for the socio-emotional empowerment of prisoners and their social inclusion, a tool to help prisoners become (re)socialized, members in the society and active citizens. In current educational theory there are a number of terms that correspond to what the method seeks: we talk about social skills, life skills, soft, skills, psychosocial skills, multiple and emotional intelligence, citizenship and more. We do not want to delve into the differences as much as into the similarities among all these concepts, which are the need for today’s people, along with knowledge, to acquire the ability to live harmoniously with others, knowing that they can shape the world for the common well-being and the common good. The list of these skills, as we call them, therefore includes (Unicef, 2012, Global evaluation of life skills education programmes, p. 8):

  • Cognitive – critical thinking and problem-solving skills for responsible decision-making;
  • Personal – skills for awareness and drive and for self management; and
  • Interpersonal – skills for communication, negotiation, cooperation and teamwork, and for inclusion, empathy and advocacy.

Our response: a series of steps

To achieve, therefore, this transformation it is necessary that prisoners 1) identify and 2) reject and revise –on their own- the socially negative aspect of their past. The first of these could be called first step. But what about the second point?

Sometimes it is very difficult for prison educators and students to engage in a direct process of achievement of it. We think that an indirect and discrete way is better. In this perspective prisoners could experience other prisoners’ incarceration stories and “propose” them new life scenarios. In this way they learn how -and are more capable- to (re)plan their own lives.

But this can also turn to be difficult, since prisoners very often do not open themselves easily to others and do not want to narrate their incarceration stories to others (why this happens does not matter here). A meaningful and constructive dialogue is not thus possible and probable.

A solution can be given by exploiting virtual reality. In this way, prisoners experience other, unknown, prisoners’ incarceration stories in a framework of virtual reality (=inspiration from documentary theatre) and suggest/propose new life scenarios with new social roles.

A new, innovative learning environment opens itself to us in this way now, an environment which, on the one hand, exploits a technology that is very compatible with prison (virtual reality), and on the other hand, does not dismiss, but, on the contrary, includes, with emphasis, the human contact and the pedagogical relation between prisoner educator and prisoner-educated. Two mottos would direct the method:

  • (prisoner:) “Looking for a new life for me” and
  • (educator:) “Helping prisoners change lives”.

In experiencing other prisoners’ stories, a quasi primary experience (because of virtual reality), prisoners are introduced into realities which are similar to theirs (criminality and incarceration), but not into their own (reality). What matters most, however, is that they enter a situation of confronting these realities by “scrutinizing” others’ biographies (perspective of case study) in a most fruitful way.

With curiosity, but also in a friendly mood, prisoners go deep into other people’s “misled” lives by entering 3D “rooms” in which the personal story of a prisoner is developed. They do not simply hear or watch; they experience. The experience is very deep, because due to virtual reality they become the “others” for some minutes.

But during this visit into the rooms, prisoners have also the chance of reflecting and developing an intrinsic discourse. The purpose of this is to identify assumptions, ways of thinking and actions that have led individuals (those “others”, but also them as well in a different way) to incarceration and its tragic consequences. They identify wrong decisions of others. These reflections are soon to be externalized in the learning group.

By identifying the wrong decisions of “others”, a positive attitude towards change is already being created, which is a second step of prisoners towards their personal development.

Afterwards, prisoners form an overall understanding of the other inmates’ identities and life frameworks and contexts; they come deeper into the biography of the other person and “study” it in a way. So, they can “suggest” to them ideas about beginning a new life. Prisoners have been given, therefore, a privilege and a right to express their opinion. This gives them the opportunity to commit themselves more strongly to the idea of change. This is the third step.

Can they now plan a new life for themselves as well? This is extremely necessary in order to avoid the major problem of recidivism after exiting prison. Now, they have gained in experience and can apply more easily the processes of self-awareness and self-reflection that are presuppositions for planning a new life. At least in words, yes, this is possible. And this is a fourth step. Planning the new life and new life itself can really start already in prison.

Prisoners, after having worked in group and reflected, have at least begun to plan a new life. Whether this is going to happen after exiting prison is difficult to say. It suffices that at least the hope arose for a fifth step. And steps for life do not stop here!

The relationship of our project with Transformative Learning

The word “transformation” in the subtitle of this Guide causes or may cause readers to make any associations with Transformative Learning. This technical term has become synonymous with adult education in recent decades, according to some, although this doesn’t mean that in adult education we do not seek the acquisition of basic knowledge, knowledge that is not intended for change. As is well known, Mezirow (1991), who introduced Transformative Learning, proposed a “philosophy” according to which the adults of today must submit their knowledge to a constant renewal, by which not just technical knowledge is meant, but also perceptions and opinions and so on. This is how the continuous connection with the rapidly changing reality results. This change in attitudes and perceptions is therefore emancipatory, as it frees us from the shackles of our earlier worldview, provided that this earlier worldview happens to be dysfunctional and contrary to the new reality. Emancipation ends up in the individual, but also in the public, good.

Of course, Jarvis (2004, 2010) as well, an avid reader of Mezirow, sees as the ultimate and highest goal of adult education the following: the overcoming of the unsuccessful approach of reality by people, after having been disconnected from the reality due to the new “facts” (the so-called disjuncture).

However, Mezirow even went so far as to suggest a specific process of steps to be followed by a group of adult learners, starting with the so-called disorienting dilemma (which may be raised to the adult learners even by their educators).

Our method interacts with and embraces Transformational Learning, without, however, seeking to incorporate the sequence of steps and principles proposed by Mezirow. Instead, it is more free and eclectic. From what we have seen above, indeed our method starts from a challenge that is addressed to the inmate. As a matter of facts, there is a disorienting dilemma.

What is this? Those of us who have served prisoner education know that there is no greater disorienting dilemma for the incarcerated learner than to question the crime itself, its value, and its contribution to shaping reality and human life. Often, of course, we hear -in prison environments- that the attitude of the prisoners has changed (that is, that the convict “repented” in the end).

Regardless of how each prisoner really feels about the “value” of the crime, with our method we seek that they radically challenge the crime, that they reject it as a potential choice of behavior in human life. This may seem like a given to the ignorant people, but those of us who have worked with prisoners know that this is not always the case, and that is why the phenomenon of recurrence occurs, why those who are released from prison often commit crimes again. Therefore, we want a strong and explicit questioning of the crime, as far as possible.

But we, proposing our method, do not want to focus on the life of the learning subject, that is, on the members of the learning team (first and foremost for reasons of discretion and objectivity). In fact, we involve case study as a teaching method. Thus, we put our “learner” in the place of another who already “committed a crime”. Placement in the place of the other is effected through virtual reality and the other is a real person.

In addition, we do not stop there (which would not make any sense), but we also provoke (and that is why all the following pages have been written wishing to guide our groups towards a structured learning activity) a thoughtful dialogue between the “learners” and their “teachers”. The new life plan devised by the learner is the elementary and starting criterion for the success of our method, as mentioned earlier. If, however, critical thinking is not the acquisition of pieces of technical knowledge, but the appreciative understanding of an opinion, of a position, etc., in order to base our future behavior for the personal and common good on it, then it becomes obvious how and because our project ultimately seeks the development of critical thinking.


Funnell, S. C. and Rogers, P. J. (2011). Purposeful program theory: effective use of theories of change and logic models.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Jarvis, P. (2004, 2010). Adult education and lifelong learning. Routledge.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass

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The partners of the STEPs project

The Scientific Association for the Promotion of Educational Innovation (EEPEK) was founded in the summer of 2014 as a non-profit organization representing educational staff, executives, and education professionals, active in the sectors of non-formal education, such as adult education and vocational training, as well as all levels of formal education (from pre-school education to higher education and second chance schools). The central role of EEPEK is to support teachers in their work, focusing on the creation, evaluation, use and dissemination of innovative teaching practices and methods. The above is achieved through actions such as training seminars, workshops, and conferences, as well as through participation and cooperation in the frameworks of national and European programs. EEPEK operates an e-portal ( where the proceedings of its first three annual conferences, including more than one thousand educational works (original articles, teaching practices and scenarios, laboratory exercises, etc.) are publicly available. Additionally, the e-learning platform of EEPEK ( offers on-line courses involving hundreds of trainers, electronic discussion groups and the exchange of ideas and experiences among teachers.

The second (2nd) “Second Chance” School of Larissa is the school of the Prison of Larissa. It is situated within the area of the prison, but has its own modern premises. The school has been uninterruptedly in operation since 2004 and is the first prison school that was founded in Greece (now being one of about 13 similar schools existing in various Greek prisons). As it is apparent from its name, the school is addressed to incarcerated adults (while there exist a couple of schools for incarcerated children and youngsters in other special correctional institutions). As it is apparent from its name, the school is addressed to incarcerated adults (while there exist a couple of schools for incarcerated children and youngsters in other special correctional institutions). A great number of students from many countries have finished the school so far in all these years and were awarded the degree of the 9-year obligatory education. Accordingly, a big number of staff (of various subjects, volunteers etc.) have offered their services for providing learning opportunities to their students. Learning and teaching in this school are implemented according to modern views of adult education. In this framework special emphasis is given to projects, events and extra-curricular activities. Moreover, the school has also participated in one Erasmus+ project “FREE The-school FROM BARRIERS” (2016-8).

Kerigma – Innovation and Social Development Institute of Barcelos, is a non-profit organization, founded in 1996, and its aim is to promote the integrated development of people, of organizations and the community, creating services, solutions and products of excellence that contribute to an active citizenship, solidarity and social cohesion. Oriented by the values of equality and social responsibility, innovation and empowerment of people and organizations, it develops its action on the domain of Promotion of Lifelong Learning, Recognition of Prior Learning, Psychosocial Support and Support to Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Citizens In Power (CIP) is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization that addresses the needs and demands of people through their involvement in social and civic life, by simultaneously providing them innovative material and free trainings related with a variety of fields, such as education (including on-line education), inclusion, entrepreneurship and business, culture, labour market and lifelong learning. CIP mainly aims at the development of education, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning in Cyprus and abroad. To achieve these targets CIP has an ongoing collaboration with the leading universities, schools, NGOs and research organizations in Cyprus for the development of projects, trainings and educational material. CIP retains a valuable network of professional trainers and educational experts experienced in both formal and non-formal education. This particular network is considered competent to contribute to the implementation of activities related to the initiatives of CIP and its partners.

CPIA 1 Lazio (Centro Provinciale per l’Istruzione degli Adulti), is a new kind of Italian adult education institution. It is a local service network settled in the Northeastern area of Rome that provides education opportunities for both Italians and migrants from age 16 onwards. The main goal of CPIA is to encourage the return to education/training of adults and to foster their entrance into the formal education and training systems. CPIA 1 is a secondary school that deals with assessment, offers education programs and issues competency certificates (i.e. compulsory education and A1/A2/B1 CEFR level certificates), and thus prepares learners for adult vocational training programs. CPIA 1 Lazio is made up of 4 schools in the city and 4 schools inside the Rebibbia Correctional Facility (both in female and male branches) located in the Northeastern area of Rome; this territory stretches from the center (a university neighborhood, rich of cultural initiatives but also partly gentrified and degraded) to the suburbs of Casal Bruciato and Torpignattara where many migrants and new poor live and where a difficult and troublesome process of integration is in place.