Barriers in Implementing the Right to Education in Prisons: an Approach on Argentine Reality

Authors: Francisco Scarfó[1] y Natalia Zapata[1]

This paper approaches the right to education of people imprisoned, recognizing different obstacles that arise in the institutional dynamic of the Argentine penitentiary system which need to be identified by tools such as control and monitor to intervene as both state and civil society.

Education is considered as a fundamental human right, essential to exercise all other rights, and aimed at the development of a subject. It is the State who must ensure and promote education as well as all human rights as a convict is only deprived from freedom to move. However, society, the police academy and other institutions can contribute to assure the fulfillment of this right as well as other ones.

The Argentine penitentiary system is currently holding 61 192 people, 53% of which does not participate in any educational proposal. Even though laws have been promoted, education is not taken as a universal and inalienable right in everyday practice since having access to education under this circumstance is seen as a “benefit” for “good” prisoners by penitentiary managements and, sometimes, with the complicity of educational institutions present in prisons.

In order to carry out an effective control and monitoring of the development in education in the context of imprisonment, it is necessary to have specific indicators that correspond to those of the law criteria. To do so, the term 4-Aes – availability, accessibility, adaptability, acceptability – (Tomasevski, 2003) becomes one of the most useful means to assess the situation of the right to education.

From the point of view of the 4-Aes, the obstacles identified in the local situation can be summarizing as follows:

–   Accessibility: as regards access, a low level of educational inclusion is identified as well as a severe selectivity and discretion; lack of information and dissemination of the educational offerings in correctional centers; deficiencies in  access to certifications of studies; inadequate environment for the development of educational activities; security criteria that prevail over educational criteria (impediments to exercise the right to education due to disciplinary sanctions or clamping measures); difficulties in supplies of teaching and learning materials.

–   Availability: the lack of coordination between educational levels and modalities, with each other and the external environment, and the presence of outdated learning tools are problems that impede education for all people deprived from their freedom.

–   Adaptability: discretion to establish the educational level in which a student is placed and projects that are not similar to the ones offered at school outside prisons are factors that impede the fulfillment of education in terms of adaptability. In addition to this, the need to upgrade teaching work in contexts of confinement.

–   Acceptability: from this approach it is expected that the contents and teaching methods are ethically relevant, non-discriminatory, culturally appropriate, of good quality and consistent with Human Rights Education. In prison one can see that judicial, penitentiary and educational officers and even teachers and students define education as the opposite of what the rules establish; scarce representation and participation of learners in the process of education; there is no Education in Human Rights; education does not adopt gender perspective, attention to ethnic diversity or transgender people.

Given the current situation of prisons, for which Argentina was observed by the international community, we must consider that the conditions mentioned are possible to overcome with political decision and the convergence of educative and penal dimensions into one perspective of action on the basis of human rights and not from a prison therapeutic action or treatment.




[1] Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Professor in Sciences of Education, National University of La Plata (UNLP), Argentina. Founder and member of the GESEC (Study Group on Education in Prisons) Argentina Email:
[2] Graduate and Professor in Social Communication (UNLP); he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences and Humanities at the UNQ; he teaches at the School of Journalism (UNLP) and has integrated the GESEC. Academic collaborator in the preparation of this article. Email: