Prison institutions are designed not only to serve a custodial sentence, but also for the social reintegration of the individual through different mechanisms, one of which is education.

By Mariela Alejandra Martínez

In reality this is a universal right, beyond its usefulness for the social reintegration policies of prisoners.

Therefore, the State must be responsible for guaranteeing conditions conducive to the implementation of HR. All existing laws and regulations agree on this point, but they need to be implemented through concrete public policies that tend to build a more just society.

It is important to highlight that in the context of confinement there is a concordance between the idea of reintegration and submission, under the logic of rewards and punishments, benefits and privileges.

Those fundamental rights for all people (education, health, work, etc.) in prison become a “benefit”. These are the paradoxes and contradictions that place us in front of the challenge of constructing another, renewed and critical view of the situation.

In my own experience, this segregation was already evident in “normal” times, let alone in times of crisis like the present.

The beautiful idea of creating a space for mental freedom in the face of the great wall – both physical and psychological for those deprived of their liberty – is fraught with questions from the cold institutional point of view.

There is a big difference between education in confinement and “normal” education. If we add to this the Covid-19 pandemic, the inequality gap is even wider.

This has given rise to a wide-ranging demand by those affected for the rights enshrined therein, given the de facto inequality between prison status and normal social status, for example in terms of further education.

The pandemic has highlighted the need to find alternatives for the continuation of higher education. To this end, the authorisation of mobile phones as a tool to facilitate access to education for people in the context of imprisonment has been fundamental.

With creativity, different ministries, such as those of education, justice, NGOs and others, have designed programmes that allow people deprived of their liberty to study or take subjects virtually, which has been of great help to them. Through this new technology – even in times of pandemic – programmes for academic advancement are made possible.

However, we cannot fail to note that many incarcerated students do not have these devices, mobile data or access to connectivity. This leaves countless students in the different educational modalities who miss out on the opportunity to remain in the education system.

It is necessary for penitentiary units to have a computerised educational space, with all the complementary elements and especially a stable internet connection. At the moment we are very far from that model, I can testify.

I ask myself, what is the real possibility of development for the inmates inside the prisons?

There are different views on the causes and effects of the difference in educational opportunities, which has always been a structural problem.

I note, however, that the greater the needs, the greater the will to overcome them and to try to continue to evolve in the midst of adversity.

That is why I say that with concrete policy progress, we should focus on social interaction between the National Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice, together with other bodies, taking charge of the situation. These are the institutions we have to face the challenge; the good work of the teaching staff will not be enough.

Incidentally, from a socio-cultural point of view, education in Argentinean prisons has been suffering from shortcomings in relation to respecting protocols that have already been authorised by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Buenos Aires Penitentiary Service. It is for this reason that they should not be unilaterally infringed by the penitentiary system, since it is a national ruling that must be respected throughout the territory.

The consequences of these infringements are evident: on the one hand, a lack of equality of means, on the other hand, the infringement of rights. Educational opportunities have an impact on the social, cultural and personal development of human beings, which is why it is of vital importance that these protocols are enforced and that there is a supervisory body to evaluate their functioning.

I conclude: it is often not enough just to have institutional will through protocols, which in practice remain only theoretical, thanks to the justification of the endemic structural crisis.

The approach is already evident in certain resolutions: “The reality of the prison of modernity in the face of the new social question deepens marginalisation and exclusion, creating superfluous surplus residual groups” (Daroqui et al., 2014, p: 284).

It is assumed that we need to insist on institutional practices that effectively guarantee and promote human rights which, as an essential aspect, contribute to subjective and empowering processes on the subjects. Even in confinement one is a “university citizen”, etc.

“Transformation will be possible when we socially invent new social meanings that are not punitive but rather of solidarity” (Dubet 2015). It will only be possible to venture towards an equitable and just society when we abandon these old preconceptions that the person deprived of liberty has no rights.

A space for communication and artistic expression.

The various articles and productions are made by people who are deprived of their liberty and who participate in the Humanist Workshop, which is carried out in all the prison units of the province of Buenos Aires.