Scientific evaluation of the pilot projects: a glance at the results

The European Foriner project has tested several solutions to offer distance education to foreign national prisoners. In the past months, 15 pilot projects all over Europe have been developed and tested. The purpose of these pilots was to examine how educational courses for foreign national prisoners can be organised, given that it is provided by their home country and received in the country in which they are imprisoned.

The research report including all results will be available in November 2017, but here are some first previews.

In total, 36 students followed a course of their home country and 25 of them were involved until the end of the pilot project (i.e. they filled in the ending questionnaire). The other 11 students dropped out during the course of the pilot project due to release from prison, transfer to another prison, or stopped and refused to fill in the ending questionnaire. 91.2% of the students were male, 8.8% female. Their mean age was 32,3 years. The youngest student was 20 years old and the oldest one 68 years. The students followed a variety of courses, for instance: bookkeeping, car engineering, history, language courses, management, mathematics, personal social development and the theoretical part of the navigation licence.

The research report will zoom in on the motives of the students, sending and receiving partners. In general, foreign national students were very motivated to follow a course of their home country. They did not want to waste their time, and do something that might help them in the future. With the words of a student:

“I want to do something here because I don’t want to waste my time. When I go back out, at least I have something that can help me in the future to start a new life. You have the chance to do something positive with your life. All people make mistakes, and from the mistakes you can learn. And I now have the chance to start something that is positive. When you get released it can help me to get a job.” (Dutch Student, Malta)

Also sending and receiving partners were motivated to take up a role within the Foriner project. Some of them found it their tasks as educational professional to provide education to foreign national prisoners, while others wanted to do something for their countrymen.

To motivate students or to keep them motivated, it was important that the students got motivational support from the professionals involved. Besides, also support on the content of the course was important for the progress of the study. Although one student indicated he was obliged to be the student and the professor of the course at the same time, students could rely on support from different actors: (1) support provided by professionals in the prison where the student was detained, (2) support of fellow prisoners, and (3) support provided by the sending partner. However, the sorts and amount of support varied greatly between the different pilot projects.

Besides support, also the communication between the different partners involved and the cost prize influenced the progress of the study. Some aspects went smooth, while others were more difficult. For instance, the sending partners experienced difficulties in providing certified courses, the receiving partners found it difficult to assess the quality and level of the course, and setting up a digital cooperation to offer distance education within prison was very challenging. Despite the challenges, the results of the mixed-method evaluation demonstrate that following an education course of their home country had some significant effects: students’ academic self-efficacy in reading and writing increased, and the majority of the students also expect to have a better life after release from prison and to be able to find a better job.

Several students expressed to be very grateful for the opportunity to follow a course of their home country. For instance:

“Thank you for offering me this programme. It will help me to spend my time in prison useful. It will help me to refresh long forgotten knowledge. It will help me to forget the hard reality. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.” (Lithuanian student, Belgium)

Mixed Methods Research:

  1. Students were monitored using pre- and post-surveys. When a student started an educational course, he/she was invited to fill in a starting questionnaire, with another one at the end of the course.
  2. 5 pilot projects have been selected to be researched in-depth: the sending partners, receiving partners and students involved were interviewed about their experiences with the project (N=16 interviews). Being selected for the inner circle of the pilots does not mean that these were ‘the best’ pilot projects. Following selection criteria were used: digital/non-digital, different models to provide distance education, coaching of the student, accused or convicted prisoners, and European region. 9 European countries were effectively involved in the development and realization of the pilot projects. 6 European countries have sent education to their nationals detained abroad during the piloting phase of the Foriner project: Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Romania, the Netherlands, and The United Kingdom. 3 countries received educational courses for foreign people detained within their correctional institutions: Belgium, Malta, and Norway.


Dorien Brosens

Postdoctoral researcher