Corrections’ professionals gathered to improve POs’ vocational training José Santos November 30, 2022

Corrections’ professionals gathered to improve POs’ vocational training

As a tailor-made product demands, the end-users were called to test, provide feedback and adjust a training programme for European prison officers. The initiative’s consortium that is developing the programme was able to finetune it according to practical needs through a series of workshops.

Prison officers (POs) face new and unexpected changes that current training does not address. Furthermore, the European mobility of these professionals is highly conditioned by countries’ different entry requirements that demand nationality or citizenship, and are diverse regarding age limits. The patchwork of training features also hampers its recognition European-wide.

Within this background, the PO21 – European Prison Officers for the 21st Century – project aimed to develop a European vocational education and training (VET) programme for prison officers and a pool of adequate Learning Resources.

Building a training model for prison officers based on real needs

In the project’s early stages, the partners conducted extensive research on prison officers’ training needs. This assessment evidenced that although there are country-specific features (such as using weapons, escorting inmates outside the prison, or capturing inmates when evaded), POs from European countries share similar needs and challenges. Parallels were also found in the perceived lack of competencies in areas that professionals feel to be currently relevant or might become essential in the future.

This research foundation allowed the project to build a modular training that is as easily applicable across European jurisdictions as it is adaptable to the specific needs of justice systems and their professionals.

Involving the target professionals in building their own VET programme

The project outputs were validated and improved in a series of workshops which gathered 76 participants, among whom were prison officers, prison directors, trainers and psychologists from the project partnership countries (Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Romania), representing Correctional Administrations, Trade Unions, specialised corrections research and advisory organisations (such as IPS_Innovative Prison Systems), and the academia.

A quarter of the trainees participated in all the workshops, while the rest of the participants were different at each event. This methodology aimed to ensure an adequate continuum between the different purposes of each workshop, while involving a larger pool of transnational opinions.

Initially, the workshop format was surprising for the participants, who were expecting a traditional trainer- – trainees framework. Instead, they were invited to become trainers, instructional designers and curriculum developers and to apply their professional knowledge to develop the VET programme and the learning resources.

The first series of workshops took place in Lisbon (28th March to 1st April, 2022) and Ghent (16th – 20th May, 2022).

In these workshops, participants received a contextualization about  PO21 project concept, were presented with the VET programme structure draft, the assessment results highlighting the main duties and specific tasks of prison officers, and a partial design of the modules.

The participants contributed to enhancing the programme by suggesting new modules and adjustments to specific features such as length, learning context, learning organisation, and evaluation strategy.

Ultimately, the programme was later finetuned and validated by expert PO trainers appointed by the partners.

Developing additional training resources for prison officers across the EU

The second series of workshops, in Romania (5th – 9th September, 2022) and Bremen (24th – 28th October, 2022), was dedicated to developing training scenarios to be used during the initial or continuous training of prison officers.

Given the first-person experience of the participants with the daily challenges in prison settings, there was potential to create learning materials based on real situations. The participants’ professional experience ensured the realism and relevanceof the developed cases.

These cases are generally associated with significant circumstances (namely routine, problematic or dilemmatic situations) within the prison context and the PO’s job. They involve a range of scenarios, including the interaction with inmates and colleagues, reaction to crises and implementation of procedures.

The methodology to develop the cases was based on the critical incidents approach. An incident is any observable human activity that allows for inductions or previsions about individual action, encompassing the goals and consequences of the action. During the workshops, the multinational groups of participants produced and piloted ten cases using role-play and brainstorming strategies.

The quality of the pedagogical resources resulting from the exercises exceeded the initial expectations. The opportunity to exit the routine and comfort zone was challenging but much appreciated by the participants, who became training experts for a week.
The workshops also comprised visits to prisons in Ghent (Belgium), Bucharest (Romania), and Bremen (Germany).

These visits allowed participants to learn more about other contexts, new methods and ideas to deal with situations, organisational approaches, and technological differences between prisons.

The knowledge exchange with partners from other countries was generally described as enriching and fruitful.

Sharing and implementing the PO21 training programme

The joint efforts of the partnership and the participants’ contributions during the workshops resulted in a true pan-European VET programme. This modular training programme can be used by countries across Europe and adapted to national contexts.

The applicability of the learning resources produced also overcomes national specificities and can be used across European states.

The PO21 project will present its achievements to political and other institutional representatives at the European level and in the project’s Final Conference. Project partners are striving to meet the initiative’s purpose: to promote a standard European training programme for prison officers and a common updated professional profile.

Know more about this project


European Prison Officers for the 21st Century

The PO21 project is led by BSAFE LAB – Law Enforcement, Justice and Public Safety Research and Technology Transfer Lab, Beira Interior University (Portugal) in partnership with IPS_Innovative Prison Systems (Portugal), the Bremen Senate of Justice and Constitution (Germany), the Directorate-General for Reintegration and Prison Services (DGRSP, Portugal), the Federal Public Service Justice (Belgium), the National Trade Union of Prison Workers (SNPP, Romania), the National Trade Union of the Prison Guard Corps (SNCGP, Portugal), and the Stichting Foundation ICPA Office in Europe (The Netherlands).

For further information about this project, please visit the PO21 website.

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