The annual conference of the network of European Penitentiary Training Academies was held in September in Switzerland. 47 professionals from 20 countries spent two days discussing issues related to leadership training of penitentiary staff. The experts exchanged ideas on strategies for enhancing training courses, innovative teaching methods and crisis management.
Nadja Kuenzle, head of leadership training at the Swiss Prison Staff Training Centre (SPSTC), proposed this topic. The leadership-training programme of SPSTC is currently being revised. A new qualification profile had been presented and a new curriculum, which is being developed in close collaboration with penitentiary management staff, will be introduced in 2019.
Presenters at the annual conference in Murten included representatives from large and established penitentiary training institutions like the University College of Norwegian Correctional Service and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration Pénitentiaire in France as well as small newer institutions like the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences in Estonia and the Prison System Directorate in Croatia. The presenters described the challenge of keeping leadership training relevant over time. The lively discussions showed that lifelong learning, continuous optimisation and evaluation of the training offerings as well as the need to impart practice-relevant knowhow represent the objectives of most of the attending penitentiary training institutions.
The training experts presented remarkably innovative approaches, e.g. a coaching programme that is integrated in leadership training and an internship in the private sector as part of the training. Staff development and leadership training are particularly closely linked in Norway where prisons are organised at the national level (the same government agency that recruits staff also trains and employs the staff). Learning at KRUS begins on the day when correctional service trainees are recruited. During the two-year training, which corresponds to a bachelor’s degree course at a university, trainees are introduced into correctional practice in a phased manner. The KRUS correctional school also offers customised professional training programmes. Prison staff and instructors assume leadership tasks at prisons by rotation.
One frequent complaint heard at the conference was that recruitment of staff for prisons is proving to be difficult. France, for example, is seeing a steady drop in the number of people applying for a career in law enforcement. Sweden also faces a shortage of qualified personnel; it is reportedly difficult to find employees for the health service. The Swedish Prison and Probation Service in Stockholm addresses the problem using unconventional means. This year, penitentiary staff set up mobile prison cells in frequented town squares as part of a PR campaign. In order to address the shortage of management staff, a project called Potentials has reportedly been launched to identify capable prison managers and motivate them to advance their careers.
Another challenge which training experts reportedly face, is severe time demands on staff at all levels. Practitioners are frequently said to be unavailable to conduct multi-day training courses at penitentiary training academies. The Irish Prison Service College in Ireland and the Centre for Legal Studies and Specialized Training in Catalonia, Spain have devised a very creative way of dealing with the situation: they reportedly approach “customers” and offer specially tailored forms of intervention in various prison institutions. The interventions, which involve entire teams including managers, concurrently bridge training needs. The training experts subsequently evaluate if not only feedback on the imparted training is positive but also whether the imparted training has found its way into day-to-day work.
The Swiss Prison Staff Training Centre, which organised the conference and had the presidency of the network of the European Penitentiary Training Academies until the end of 2017, received enthusiastic feedback from participants. In addition to the hospitality and the cheerful atmosphere, the conference methodology in particular, which placed emphasis on short presentations and interactivity, and the productive and creative management at the Witzwil prison on the last evening of the conference drew appreciation.
The European Penitentiary Training Academies (EPTA) network has been in existence for the last nine years. Twenty-one penitentiary training institutions are currently members of the network. Three more penitentiary training academies are expected to join the network next year. The training experts meet every year at a conference. Patrick Cotti, Director of the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation, is the president of the managing board of EPTA until the end of 2017. The last annual conference was held in 2017 in Morat/Murten, Switzerland. Next year it will be held 12-15 June in Agen, France. See: www.epta.info.