Barred from the Internet

Contribution to the EDEN President’s Blog by Morten Flate Paulsen, NKI Distance Education

Morten F. Paulsen in Bergen

I recently spent two days in the picturesque Norwegian town of Bergen, attending a captivating workshop on online education in prisons. Going home, I imagined myself as newly released, trying to find work and handle my daily life after being barred from the Internet for ten years. It dawned on me that I was deprived of basic human skills.

Understandably, inmates have limited access to the Internet. But there are technical solutions secure enough to provide inmates, even in high security prisons, access to the web. These solutions are basically based on gateways that:

  1. only allow access to whitelisted domains
  2. accept inbound information, but reject outbound messages
  3. provides detailed log files of all traffic

Working at NKI Distance Education, I’m pleased to understand that inmates for decades have followed our correspondence courses and that several low security prisons now allow them to study our online courses. Some telephone calls, certain addresses, and special examination arrangements points to prisons, but as far as I know, NKI doesn’t have, and probably shouldn’t have, any statistics or systematic information about the extent and outcome of its prison education.

Generally, the challenges in European prison education are dire and tough. There is a broad range of individual needs that are handled with limited resources. Many inmates are drop-outs with distressing school experiences. Security, learning disabilities and foreign language issues are demanding. But The European Convention on Human Rights states in Article 2 that, “No person shall be denied the right to education”. So, in my quest to learn more about these issues, I found comfort in the thirteen recommendations on education in prisons provided by the European Council. They are all listed at a web site for the European Prison Education Association.

I also found two relevant European projects. The objective of the Pipline project was to improve prison education in Europe by making ICT available to learners and teachers. The HERO project focused on health promotion and educational support for the rehabilitation of offenders. Both projects developed, piloted and demonstrated online education solutions for high security prisons. It troubles me however, that they had to rely on inside learning management systems that deny access to the vast range of outside courses. It also disturbs me that inmates consequently are not able to continue these inside courses after they are released.

My conclusion is that online education has a potential to improve prison education significantly. First of all, it may increase the range of available courses dramatically. Secondly, it makes it much easier to stay the course in spite of the frequent relocations that are common in prisons. Finally, it may help prisoners continue and complete courses after they are released.

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