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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


The rationale of this project is based on the high numbers of foreign national prisoners in European prisons.  An EU study ‘Foreigners in European Prisons’ (Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen, 2008) found that of 608,703 prisoners in the EU, 114,832 of these were foreign national.

The over-representation of foreign nationals in the criminal justice system can be attributed to genuinely higher crime rates resulting from institutional inequalities and marginalisation, but also to a growing culture of ‘enemy penology’ in Europe.  This is in danger of being further perpetuated within the prison institution due to a lack of cultural understanding and an inability to communicate basic needs, rights and obligations within the prison context, i.e. asking for basic things, requesting to see legal representatives, understanding visitation rules and procedures, communicating health concerns and understanding parole processes and conditions.  The 2008 report found that linguistic problems resulted in lack of communication, which contributed to (although isn’t the main cause of) other issues, such as lack of knowledge about legal rights / position / case, less access to medical/psychiatric care, exclusion from work / education and training, difficulty in maintaining contact with family, deprivation of contact with outside world, no or fewer opportunities for resettlement programmes.  The study found that prison authorities often do not take into consideration the special communication needs of foreign national prisoners (Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen, 2008).

The Project LBB will develop an inter-lingual, inter-cultural learning programme that incorporates not only the education of offenders on prison-communication and cross-cultural awareness, but also that of prison officers.  This will help prison staff and foreign national inmates to communicate basic things in a common language, and help encourage a better cultural understanding of each other.  This will help to minimise unnecessary psychological and emotional stress, and facilitate more effective rehabilitation.

However, being able to understand and communicate with others in a prison setting is conducive not only to more a productive and effective time in prison, but affords inmates the language skills, cultural empathy and self-reflection which contribute to better integration into society and the work force after release.

The emphasis on providing training for prison staff is pursuant to the findings of the Grundtvig funded “Pathways to Inclusion” final report, following the conference in Budapest 2010, which states that:

"Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the training of staff engaged in prison education, in order to equip them more effectively for coping with the special challenges – social and psychological as well as pedagogical – of working in this environment" (p5).

The 2010 report identifies not only the training of staff per se but the awareness-raising amongst staff of the benefits of prison education as being of key importance.  This is echoed in the 2011 Directorate General for Education and Culture commissioned review of Prison Education and Training in Europe, where it is stated that “prison officers should be viewed as key players in encouraging prison education” and that “their training should also be improved” since “they have the potential to motivate prisoners to engage in education as they are the people that have most contact time with them” (p13)

Work has been done already on improving communication between offenders and staff in a prison context.  The Prison Translator, a joint project between the Prisons of the Canton of Zürich and the European Prison Education Association, provides an extensive and comprehensive list of relevant phraseology for various sections of prison life which can be translated into and between 22 international languages (see www.prisontranslator.eu).  The project “Eliminating Language Barriers in European Prisons through Open and Distance Education Technology” sought to break down communication barriers through second-language instruction to prison personnel.

The idea of LBB is take the concept of these projects further, that is to develop classroom-based foreign-language instruction with strong intercultural components that can be used to provide staff and inmates with a common language of basic communication (be it the local language, or a relevant European language) geared to the communication needs of the prison population, whilst encouraging a greater cultural understanding of one-another and of their surroundings.  As a European-wide language-learning tool, LBB will establish a system whereby language and cultural skills can be practised and enhanced by inmates through written (and moderated) correspondence with inmates in partner countries.  The aim is for prison staff to take an active and encouraging role in this, thus further cement their awareness of the positive effects of prison education.  In terms of staff development, European consistent certification will be developed to provide a clear benchmark for the inter-lingual and cross-cultural competence of prison staff working with foreign national offenders.

As a multi-lateral project, this project will provide a platform to share experience and good practice.  Multi-lateral co-operation will result in a research report, a training course with trainer’s materials, a good practice guide for using English language and cultural training to ease communication tensions between staff and foreign-national inmates in prison, and a second good practice guide for employing cross-cultural written correspondence as a means to enhance cultural awareness amongst the prison population.