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Prospects for Improvement in Prison Education


“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General

United Nations (1997-2006)


Filipinos have high regard for education. The situation may be difficult but Filipino parents will do everything and will always find ways to send their children to school. After graduation, festivities follow with friends, teachers and relatives invited to celebrate. When one enters into a typical Filipino home, one will notice an array of well-arranged diploma, medals and ribbons hanged on the walls silently revealing to every visitor who enters the home the proof that their children were able to accomplish college, secondary or even elementary course. The diploma is a proof of their perseverance and of their hard work. On the other hand, it also shows that their sons or daughters belong to a select few who were lucky enough to get educated or schooled despite difficulties. Being a nation with more people categorized as “poor,” we see education as a great social equalizer. We believe that with good education, we can and are able to move to higher stratum in the society. Those who are not able to graduate from a formal school are encouraged to attend trainings offered by TESDA or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority while others avail other alternative learning systems such as Open High School, Distance Learning, Adult Education, Night High School offered by institutions with the purpose of being “educated.”

The belief that education is a right and a great social equalizer is embedded in the 1987 Philippine Constitution which recognizes and guarantees the right of every and all Filipinos to receive quality education at all levels. It even admonishes and requires the government to ensure that this is achieved by providing alternatives to formal education and enhancing its offering of such program for those who are incapable of attending formal education due to financial constraints, social mobility and even physical differences.

However, a minority group, challenged by their very situation as offenders and prisoners are not “free” to access such provisions. They are confined in a correctional facility for a specific period either waiting for their release or under trial. Their education is as important as the education of the “free” citizens. Depending on the situation of the jail, their education is either provided or facilitated by the Department of Education through its volunteer or mobile teachers or by the Prison Inmates Welfare Development Division (IWD) of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).[1] Although, jail or prison education is not listed as one of the many alternative learning systems in the Philippines as evidenced in the various laws creating those programs; in other ways it qualifies as an alternative learning system as it caters to a marginalized or minority group and the purpose is to enable the recipient to be incorporated back to the mainstream society and schooling if possible. (Arzadon & Nato, n.d.).

This essay argues that prisoners, being a minority group and displaced are entitled to receive education through a well-designed alternative learning system specifically through prison education which has to be both the responsibility of prison managers, the Department of Education in collaboration with private entities. This work tries to uncover the problems besetting the prison education system that make it difficult if not impossible to attain the ends to which the program was culled. The work would not be complete without suggesting enhancements in the prison education system by critically analyzing trends in prison education system.


A reader at times can be confused as to the use of terms in this essay. In this regard, I use the terms “jail and prison” to mean as one although in the Philippine Correctional System, a jail is distinguished from a prison. (Alvor, 2005). Further, the context from which this essay was borne is from the perspective of BJMP-managed[2] jail located at Brgy. Mayao Crossing, Lucena City. It is a medium jail that houses male and female inmates who are under investigation, undergoing trial or serving short-term sentences. (Alvor, 2005). As a BJMP-managed correctional facility, the jail receives its funding from the Local Government Unit of Lucena City. Learning in this correctional facility is managed by the Department of Education Division of Lucena City through its mobile teachers. However, education of prisoners for those jails without facilities for alternative learning system is handled by the Inmates Welfare and Development Division of the BJMP.

Purpose and Problems of Prison Education

Prison education was and is continuously implemented to affect rehabilitation (Adams, Bennet, Flanagan Marquat, Cuvelier, Fritsch & Gerber, 1993, Davis et.al. 2013) of incarcerated individuals and to complement other prison programs as it is believed that low academic skills, underemployment and criminality are interrelated. (Batiuk, Lahm, McKeever, Wilcox & Wilcox, 2005, Graham, 2014). Graham (2014) pointed out that many of the prisoners have experienced violence in the school, are product of school labeling and are segregated and excluded from education. These experiences are seen to be one of the reasons for incarceration. As such, prison facilities are expected to come up with programs that will help attain rehabilitation of convicts. In the Philippines, it is only the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) which has a complete educational program from primary to tertiary levels. Other jails such as the subject of this essay has an alternative learning system in place.

The rehabilitation of offenders based on education is well-founded in literature although there are claims that prison facilities are not conducive for learning because it provides little stimuli to affect learning. The problem is further aggravated because prison facilities are seen as place for discipline and not as nexuses of welfare such as the classroom. (Lincoln, 2007). Along with re-creating prison or jail facilities as nexuses of welfare comes the necessity to re-create the existing relationship among prisoners and between prisoners and prison guards. Lopez (2015) aptly describes the significance or reconstructing these interactions as it enhances learning and it eliminates illegitimate patterns of socializing. Indeed, there is a close relationship existing between the kind of environment and learning. (Diseth, Eikeland, Manger & Hetland, 2008, Sealey-Ruiz, 2011). An environment that is filled with negative experiences do not support learning. This is the reason why schools promote positive discipline instead of incorporating corporal punishment. This is the reason why schools come up with ideas such as child-friendly school. A learning institution cannot promote learning when trust between teachers and students is absent.

The second purpose of prison education is to reduce the rate of recidivism of prisoners in case of release and consequently the successful re-integration in the society. Recidivism is described as the chances of the former inmate to commit another crime, thus re-incarcerated. It is widely-accepted that prison education limits the chances of prisoners to re-offend as they are provided and taught with social skills, artistic development, teach methods and approaches to deal with emotions and stress academic, vocational and spiritual education (Alemagno & Dickie, 2005 in Garcia, 2013) necessary to survive in the society.  The development of such character traits is important considering the peculiar situations of the clientele who are not ordinary students who will seek job opportunities outside but are former offenders.  Despite this, it is even more essential that former inmates will be able to use the technical know-how and the skills they have acquired while attending prison education. There is no assurance that former prisoners will become effective and efficient citizens once release from confinement.

The third purpose of prison education is to provide literacy training and academic development for prisoners vis-à-vis values formation. (Lopez, 2015). The connection between the level of literacy and the rate of recidivism is a well-developed concept (Ubah & Robinsons, 2003; Lopez, 2005; Miceli, 2009; Bloom, 2010; Bennet, 2015) based on moral development theory, social psychological theory and opportunity theory (Miceli, 2009) although there are claims that not all types of prison education program achieve this particular end with the same impact as post-secondary programs (Batiuk et. al., 2005). Bennet (2015) further argued that prison education has no impact on post-release employment of prisoners if they will not be able to use them after release and if appropriate support is provided. The presence of prison education programs in correctional facilities does not guarantee prisoners’ participation in this program as they are affected by motivation. (Manger, Eikeland, Diseth, Hetland & Asbjornsen, 2010). A student who is internally and externally motivated to learn will do as much as possible in order to achieve. The same is true for prisoners. Manger et. al. (2010) states that a prisoner who is more likely to be incarcerated for a longer period and no definite time for release is less likely to participate in prison education compared with those whose prospects for release is much higher.

The conflicting data on whether educational programs in prison facilities decreases the rate of recidivism gave rise to the question “whether prison education is an effective means” to rehabilitate prisoners. The questions “Which comes first, prisoners’ rehabilitation and successful reintegration or prisoners’ literacy training?” arises to mind. The answer could be confusing as education in prison becomes a means of rehabilitation. There is a tendency to separate the purposes thus the possibility of eliminating education as one of the means that can be replaced by other practices such as spiritual and emotional counselling and some livelihood education programs. However, I argue that the purposes are not mutually exclusive. Rather they complement each other. Stating this, there is a need to strengthen the prison education program to achieve the ends to which it is culled by re-visiting and reformulating the objectives of prison education and by putting prime importance to education both formal, informal and vocational as a means towards achieving rehabilitation. Education in prison cannot and should not be relegated as a secondary option as it is a means to improve literacy and at the same time rehabilitate an offender for a successful re-integration to the society.

Prison education is the way towards prisoner’s rehabilitation and rehabilitation becomes possible when they are educated. However, this assertion becomes problematic due to the kind of environment where these informal schools operate, the inconsistencies in the program, the lack of facilities and resources for learning, the curriculum offered, the faculty involved in the prison education, the lack of other services and prospects for graduates. (Lopez, 2015). The meager amount received by teaching personnel cannot provide the needed motivation (Miceli, 2009) to improve the services although teaching in correctional facilities is often seen as a form of apostolate to the needy. Compounding teachers’ availability to handle education and motivation to participate in educational programs is the scarcity of facilities more so teaching aids. The schedule is also erratic given the fact that inmates will have to attend hearings or to meet with their lawyers. These eventualities disrupt regular class schedule.

After schooling and provided that inmates are successfully reintegrated to the society, the stigma of being labeled as a former inmate bears a heavy burden for their future employment. Another problem although not entirely related to the delivery of learning is the state of jails in the Philippines. According to studies, the situation of the correctional facilities is debasing. Inmates need to take turns so they can sleep and take a rest, insufficient toilets, insufficient food and other services are lacking.

Integrating Changes: What needs to be done?

The previous section provided as a glimpse of the nature of prison education as well as the problems that limit the realization of its objectives. There are prevailing themes: one, re-inventing prison facilities as nexuses of welfare; two, re-envisioning prison education as the overarching philosophy in rehabilitation; three; training of teachers and other personnel; four, prospects for prison education graduates and completers and five; availability of resources and facilities. All these have to be clarified so that prison education becomes an effective means.

 Clarifying purpose and objectives of the program

Prison education, based on the arguments serves two purposes; one is the rehabilitation of an offender to be successfully reintegrated to the society and to limit the rate of recidivism and to improve their literacy. The studies are all unanimous in saying that education of prisoners serves as a form of positive rehabilitation and that it re-creates the prison as a place of torture and other misgivings to a place where compassion and understanding prevail. Studies stating that prison education does not affect recidivism and rehabilitation according to Miceli is flawed and outdated. (Miceli, 2009). These elements are also essential even in a formal setting. There is a thin line distinguishing which of the two should be the priority. As prisons are built to rehabilitate individuals; it is easy to suppose that education is just a luxury for prisoners. This can spell confusion among the recipients as well as those supporting the program. I argue that to enhance prison education system in the Philippines, there is a need to reformulate the objectives of the program through collaboration among agencies such as the Bureau of Corrections, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare, Local government former and current inmates. Further, as prison education is seen only as one of the many opportunities for rehabilitation, I strongly recommend that prison education becomes the overarching activity to which all other activities are connected. With this structure, prison education becomes indispensable and not accidental and can be replaced by other programs. A problem with this proposed model is that prison facilities are primarily not meant for education purposes. Historically, prison facilities are places of confinement where incarcerated individuals are believed to be “punished” and redressed for their misbehaviors in the community.  Another setback of this proposal is the concept of “re-privileging” criminals. Prisons become then a “privileged place” where criminals receive free education for their own advancement. With these counter-arguments, there is a need for advocates of and for advancing prison education to engage in a mutual dialogue with the community to fully support the program.

Along with the reformulation of the vision of the program the delegation of the administration of the program to jail wardens or prison managers. Considering the temporal duration of assignment of jail wardens and managers, there is a need delegate to certain extent the provision to co-manage and co-supervise the program to individuals who are appointed by the Department of Education. It has to become a shared responsibility with the jail managers providing the necessary support in contrast to arguments forwarded in some studies that prison education should be delegated to jail wardens or managers exclusively.

Training of Teachers and other personnel

The presence of teachers handling education in prison facilities should become a norm and a standard in every prison facility. However, as stated in the discussion, teachers in prison facilities are not compensated at least in our experience. It is essential therefore that these teachers be provided with commensurate salary and other financial support. They should also be given appropriate training in pedagogy and andragogy focusing on teaching with people with learning disabilities. They also have to be inducted to prison system as teachers are not trained during their pre-service to handle education in prison facilities. (Wright, 2005). This proposal is not without any limitation. Its first limitation lies on the very nature of prison facilities which were already discussed in the previous section. The fact that the money of the government will be spent for the training of teachers who will handle courses in education in prison facilities can be interpreted as re-privileging the prisoners. To minimize government expenditures for the training of teachers, prison managers have to enter into an agreement with private entities to support the program. The second limitation that this proposal needs to address is its effect in the curriculum of pre-service teachers. The recommendation above will have to be reflected in the training of pre-service teachers although there are lessons that talk about andragogy and education of the less fortunate or the differently-abled individuals, prisoners are different in terms of culture and our conception of a prisoner. If changes in the curriculum is impossible, then perhaps future teachers can be exposed to prison education during their formative years. But this entails theoretical exposition as well. Therefore, its necessity to be included in the curriculum is a must.

Prospect for Graduates

One of the problems that is haunting prison education as well as its graduates is the opportunity for its graduate to find and work on a job. When prisoners cannot use the acquired skills through prison education, there is a tendency to re-offend thus re-entry becomes imminent. The prospect for landing a job diminishes for a prisoner as incarcerated individuals are seen as dangerous people capable of re-offending. It is essential therefore for the government through the different agencies to provide necessary support and to see to it that former inmates are successfully re-integrated in the society. Very little data as asserted in the studies cited in this paper show government’s support after release. Thus, it becomes evident that partnership with different private agencies need to be built to assist in the employment of inmates. Another possibility which the government can explore is the possibility of hiring former prisoners as learning facilitators. Bennet (2015) argues that prisoners know what is best for them considering the fact that they were once an inmate.

 Facilities and other Resources

            In the Philippines, there is a lack of correctional facilities due to increasing number of take-ins and little budget allocation. If prison cells, foods and other services are lacking which are basic for a correctional facility, one cannot expect that classrooms are also built. (Czerniawski, 2016). However, classrooms are essential in learning although learning is never confined in any area. But the peculiar characteristics of the clientele warrants the building of such edifices within the facility. The problem in constructing such spaces within the facility is the budget needed as well as the availability of space.  The arguments will never end unless the government find a way of increasing the funding for every correctional facility, strengthening and utilizing the services of private entities such as the school, different churches and other non-governmental agencies working with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and Bureau of Corrections


The sustainability and effectivity of prison education lies on our answer to the question whether we give “privileges” to offenders by providing them services such as free education which in some cases non-offenders do not have access to? While the Philippine Constitution provides for the free education of all Filipinos regardless of their profile; inmates’ education does not seem to fit well in our standards. Prisoners are offenders; thus prison facilities should serve as an avenue to punish them for their wrongdoings. But confinement facilities are not meant for punishment at least due to advancements in jail management and modifications of behaviors. Unless, we view prison education as an essential element to effect this modification of behavior and not just privileging the prisoners, prison education will remain a supporting activity to effect the changes among prisoners. Thus, it can be scrapped from the system.


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[1] This is based on the interview conducted by the author with Special Jail Officer 3 Mrs. Joan Cabaldo who is in-charge of the Inmate Welfare Division (IWD) in Region 4-A composed of the Provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon and the City of Calamba.

[2] There are two agencies that look after the correctional system in the Philippines. One is the Bureau of Corrections or BuCor and the other one is Bureau of Jail Management and Penology or BJMP. BuCor is in-charge of managing the national penitentiaries and is under the Department of Justice. BJMP on the other hand is under the Department of Interior and Local Government.

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