Wednesday Webinar: International Good Practice in Prison Education with Dr Cormac Behan

Home > Wednesday Webinar: International Good Practice in Prison Education with Dr Cormac Behan

25 February 2022

We recently hosted a PLA Wednesday Webinar in conversation with Dr Cormac Behan, author of UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning publication, Prison Education: A literature review. In the publication, Dr Cormac Behan identifies current trends, progress and obstacles in prison education at a global level.

Dr Cormac Behan teaches criminology at the School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences, Technological University Dublin, Ireland. Previously, he worked at the Centre for Criminological Research at the University of Sheffield. From 1997 to 2011, he taught politics and history in Irish prisons. He was one of the founder members of the Journal of Prison Education and Re-entry and he currently serves as Lead Editor. He is the Chairperson of the European Prison Education Association.


At our webinar, Cormac discussed his approach to the review and its key findings, with a particular focus on international examples of good practice. We then opened the virtual floor to questions and comments from the audience.



In the review, Dr Cormac Behan focused on the following questions:

  • How has education in prison developed over time?
  • How is education in prison defined?
  • Are there common characteristics among the populations to be taken into consideration to meet the educational needs?
  • What are the challenges for education in prison internationally, both in terms of policy and practice?
  • What support is needed to promote education in prison, and facilitate it more widely?
  • What further research is required to improve the provision of education in prison?


The principles that should inform the provision of education in prison include cooperation, flexibility, ambiguity, equality and empowerment, with the goal of personal, social and political growth. These principles allow for individual learning plans, alternative methods of defining success, embracing a range of subjects in what is generally described as the ‘informal curriculum’, essentially acknowledging prisoners’ agency, and recognising that they are participants in the coproduction of knowledge.


Cormac began the presentation with a brief analysis of students in prison, before moving on to the principles on which education in prison is based internationally. He then looked at how these principles impact domestic policies, and considered how the policies are translated into practice. Drawing on the research from reviewing the literature, Dr Cormac Behan offered recommendations on enhancing the provision of education in prison.


Resources and Projects Highlighted during the Webinar


Prison Education: A literature review by Dr Cormac Behan for the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

Global Prison Trends 2021 by Penal Reform International

The Lammy Review by David Lammy MP

Bromley Briefings by Prison Reform Trust

The Oxford History of the Prison edited by Norval Morris and David J. Rothman

The Nelson Mandela Rules by the United Nations

Her Majesty’s Philosophers by Alan Smith

Journal of Prison Education & Reentry

Books beyond bars: The transformative potential of prison libraries by Lisa Krolak for UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

‘Higher education saved my life.’ Interview with Wilfredo Laracuente, former prisoner at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (New York, USA by UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning



Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, USA

Building their freedom, Bolivia

The Community-based Health and First Aid programme, Ireland

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