News & Views

‘Sharing lessons on education in prison and employability for detainees’ – An international online workshop for the CUP partnership

CUP partners and associates from Italy, Greece, Cyprus, The Netherlands and Portugal, and experts from Africa and Latin America came together from 29 June to 1 July 2021 for an online workshop and training event aimed at “Sharing Lessons”. The training was organised with the support of the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO) and it was hosted on the ITC-ILO’s digital platform, ‘eCampus’.

This blog is an account of key outcomes and reflections in the words of those who worked together behind the scenes to organise the event.


A strong and effective partnership

“The event was the core of the CUP project as it was conceived to be the moment when we would turn the theory elaborated so far into practice. A time when we would begin to transform the CUP model into the training modules that will be implemented in every prison involved in the project”, says Silvia Pirro from Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo. “And, partners once again demonstrated that they can cooperate actively and effectively together, valuing different approaches towards achieving common goals and intentions”, continues Silvia.



What we learned

“This online training was designed to be as participatory as possible as we wanted everybody to be involved and to contribute to the dialogue by sharing their experiences, with the aim of fostering the exchange of good practices, difficulties and constraints, too” reflects Silvia.


Katerina Pournara, from the Greek NGO HumanRights360, leads CUP’s advocacy work aiming to make the case for prison education and training in prison. She echoes Silvia Pirro is saying that “the training event gave us the wonderful opportunity to meet the extended CUP project partners…Researchers and practitioners from all over the world (Africa, Latin America, Europe) presented their studies and gave us examples of good practices. But, most importantly prisoners and ex-prisoners spoke about their employability and reintegration experiences”.


Katerina refers to one of the most powerful sessions of the workshop, when ex-detainees from Italy, The Netherlands and Greece, as well as a detainee from Cyprus, shared their own experiences of training in prison, reflecting on how the skills acquired are invaluable to pave the way for smooth reintegration after prison. They also spoke of the stigma they have suffered as well as the strong sense of empowerment in becoming agents of their own change and helping others. This was beautifully told by Hilal, the ex-detainee from The Netherlands, who started a business to facilitate the employment of ex-detainees when he was still in PI Vught, thanks to the training and support he received in prison. He is now a successful entrepreneur and an advocate for detainees’ employment and reintegration.


Devis Geron, from Fondazione Zancan who leads the development of the CUP Impact Evaluation Toolkit, adds that: “all partners highlighted the importance of evaluation, and of spreading an evaluation culture at all levels, to also communicate the benefits of training and work for detainees. Partners demonstrated awareness of the importance of taking a multidimensional perspective, adopting a person-centred approach and a strength-based perspective”. This is all in line with the impact evaluation model and tools developed by CUP, which are based on the concept of ‘generative welfare’ – where the individual helps build the capacity of the people around them – and the idea that “I cannot help you, without you”.



The challenges ahead

Devis Geron reflects on the key challenges ahead. “Engaging detainees and professionals in evaluation will be challenging. Concretely using the evaluation tools to operationalize the CUP Framework in all prison contexts, taking into account contextual differences while working within a common evaluation framework will be tested in the coming months. The concept of generative welfare, to value the strengths and capacities of the detainees, will also be road tested in participating prisons”, Devis adds. “To achieve these goals, we have shared draft documents providing detailed and operational guidance for partners. Fondazione Zancan will provide support and guidance on evaluation (concepts and implementation) to all partner prisons who will request it over the coming months”.


Katerina also reflects on the challenges ahead: “we all agreed that communication, awareness raising and evidence-based advocacy are essential to the CUP project. Based on the inputs of our partners on our first advocacy video and tools, and on the outcomes of the event, we are ever more motivated to work further!”



Next steps

The online training event was the result of a very productive collabortion with the ITC-ILO, whose skills will be integrated in the CUP project going forward. Manuela di Cara and Stefano Merante from the skills development cluster of the ITC-ILO’s Employment Policy and Analysis Programme, coordinated the organisation of the training event, with input from CUP partners. Manuela says “we were glad to support the CUP partnership in the design and delivery of the online event, which is entirely aligned with our mandate to promote full and productive employment, with a focus on disadvantages groups, including young people who face barriers to entry, and workers in vulnerable forms of employment”. Manuela adds: “Working with the CUP partnership and interacting with the stakeholders of the project, was an enriching and enlighting experience for us. We look forward to creating future collaborations and innovative initiatives to promote the social reintegration of women and men detained in prisons through training and upskilling opportunities”.


All in all, the event was very successful. Following Phase 1 of the training, participants will be working in the upcoming months on the design of the training modules. These will then be shared in the follow-up one-day online workshop scheduled for 21 September. So, watch this space!