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Education for Persons in Detention—A Human Right

The positive correlation between increased education and lowered recidivism rates is a long-established fact. Even so, governments worldwide are not always willing or even able to insure that the men, women and children housed in various detention facilities are given access to sufficient educational and vocational opportunities. Many factors can contribute to this problem, not all of which will be solved with increased funding. In some instances, the primary obstacles faced are environmental, institutional, cultural or individual.

In a recently submitted report prepared by the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, the issue of the right to education of persons in detention was examined in depth for the purpose of identifying and initiating possible remedies for solving the shortcomings that currently exist in the area of education. The Special Rapporteur observed that a basic problem faced in many detention facilities worldwide is that education is often viewed as a privilege and not as an imperative in its own right. The huge positive impact an education can have on a person’s ability to become self-sufficient upon release is oftentimes marginalized or minimized in an environment “inherently hostile to its liberating potential.” And the problems are often compounded for women and children in cultures where their worth and potential are considered beneath that of men. Another group of individuals frequently overlooked are those with mental, physical, or emotional difficulties that inhibit their learning abilities.

However, the report lists a number of recommendations to address the various problems. Chief among them is the premise that education for persons in detention should be “guaranteed and entrenched in Constitutional and/or other legislative instruments.” The adoption of this recommendation alone, backed by adequate public funding and enforced compliance standards, would go far in raising public awareness of the issue, possibly opening the door for new ideas and initiatives from that sector.

In total, this report offers a clear, concise evaluation of a complex problem with far-reaching results. With the re-sources and technology available in the world today, no person, regardless of specific living arrangements, should have to suffer the indignities that a lack of proper education gives rise to. Furthermore, if the world community were to confront this issue with the gravity and dedication it deserves, illiteracy and crime would be significantly reduced accordingly.

Source: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Munoz, pub. 2 April 09, United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

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