Initial training should be mandatory for new prison staff, to prepare them for their role. These training programmes should be based on a clear understanding of the purpose of prison work. They should be as participatory as possible and include theoretical and practical training and assessment. There are no standards on the appropriate length of initial training programmes. However, they must be sufficient to provide staff with an understanding of the principles of what their role involves and the operational and technical knowledge and skills to carry out their work.
Training of prison staff
Initial training programmes should include:
- Understanding of the role of prison in society and prisons as very special places, as closed institutions with its very specific characteristics.
- The principles underpinning prison work: the dignity and humanity of everyone in the prison, as well as human rights standards and principles of equality and non-discrimination.
- The technical skills required for prison work (e.g. security technology, checking detainees, supervision, record-keeping and reporting, the use of force, physical restraint and searches etc.) and how these are put in practice in line with the principles outlined above.
- Interpersonal communication skills, including how to build positive relations with detainees, lower tensions and defuse situations without using force (also known as dynamic security).
Further professional development opportunities should be provided to prison staff at regular intervals throughout their career, to ensure they maintain knowledge and capacity, and are aware of latest concepts and techniques relevant to their role. This is also important for maintaining staff motivation and retention. Such opportunities can include: internal training, training in specialised centres with staff from other prisons/government sectors, national qualifications, opportunities for training in related fields (social work etc.). There should be no discrimination in relation to professional development opportunities. Women prison staff and those belonging to minority groups must have the same access to further training as other staff. .
Prison staff should receive equality and diversity training on how to respect the rights and meet the specific needs of detainees in situations of vulnerability, and the skills necessary for working with them.
All prison staff should receive training in cultural diversity, which builds awareness of the different perceptions and experiences of indigenous and ethnic minority groups in prisons. This training should equip staff to avoid of using stereotypes, stigmas or assumptions. It should include practical information about other cultures and religious practices, including different behaviour and attitudes towards prison life, criminality and life in general, to assist staff in developing appropriate behaviour and language.
All prison staff should receive disability awareness training, to raise awareness of mental and physical disabilities, break down stigmatising attitudes and highlight that detainees with disabilities have the same human rights as all other detainees. Training should enable staff to identify, effectively supervise and care for detainees with disabilities. This includes ensuring that persons with disabilities have the same access to services and benefits as other detainees and are protected from discrimination, violence or abuse by prison staff or other detainees. It also includes training on basic mental health issues and the prevention of suicides.
All prison staff should be trained on protecting the rights and meeting the needs of LGBTI detainees, including the differences between sexual orientation and sexual identity and the specific sub-groups included in the LGBTI acronym. This training should raise awareness on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation and dismantle prejudices and assumptions about LBGTI persons and detainees. Prison staff should be trained on the absolute prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment of LGBTI detainees; considerations relating to LGBTI detainees in the conduct of operational procedures (classification, placement, searches); appropriate measures to protect LGBTI detainees from victimisation (e.g. from violence and abuse by other detainees).
Prison staff working with foreign national detainees (whether in pre-trial detention, convicted of a criminal offence or administratively detained due to their migration status) should receive training on the rights, specific needs and challenges faced by foreign nationals in prison, including how language barriers can impede their access to rights, services and benefits. These training programmes should cover consular rights, immigration procedures and how to minimise detainees’ uncertainties regarding their immigration status.
It should be noted that under international standards, persons detained because of their migration status should not be held in prisons or prison-like settings at all. Prison staff working with immigration detainees should be trained to understand that as such persons are not convicted or suspected of a criminal offence, their detention must not be punitive in nature and should resemble as far as possible life in the outside world (e.g. in terms of clothing, freedom of movement inside detention, access to activities and visitation rights etc.).
Prison staff working with women detainees should be trained on the gender specific needs and human rights of women. This training should address prejudices about women detainees and assist prison staff to understand the disproportionate impact of imprisonment on women and how to minimise this, as well as how to meet their specific protection and health care needs. Staff should also be properly trained on the operational procedures that are designed to protect the rights and dignity of women (for example, on gender sensitivity in the conduct of body searches).
Prison staff working with children should be trained on the rights, special considerations and protection needs of children in prison because of their young age and vulnerability. This includes international standards on the rights of the child and the principle of the best interest of the child, as well as basic training on child psychology and child welfare. Where children are allowed to stay with mothers in prison, staff should receive awareness-raising on child development and basic training on health care of children to be able to respond in times of need and emergency.
The prison management (the director and deputies of a prison) require specialised skills and have an important impact on the culture of a prison. Managers should be provided with extensive management skill training. This applies to managers who are externally recruited for the position as well as those who are promoted within the prison (as experience in operational prison work can be an asset for managers, but it does not necessarily provide the specific skills required for managing). They should also be given regular opportunities for further training.
Technical staff members (e.g. medical doctors, teachers etc. who sometimes report to other Ministries) should be trained on the specificities of carrying out their professional role in the prison context, including their ethical obligations. For example, the first responsibility of medical staff in prisons is to consider detainees as patients and treat them as such. Dilemmas arising in this context should be explicitly included in this training. Medical staff should also be trained on the specific health care needs of groups in situations of vulnerability in prison, for example women, children, persons with disabilities and LBGTI detainees. Technical staff should also receive the same basic training as custodial staff, to the extent they have comparable responsibility for control and treatment of detainees.
In order to be effective, prison staff training programmes should be based on an institutional vision for staff professionalism and part of a coherent approach to staff professional development. Training must be clearly supported by and linked to institutional policy. This means that the principles and practices imparted must be supported by the vision, mission, policies and operating procedures of the prison. Management and supervisors must be trained in and committed to applying these principles and practices.
Theoretical and practical training phases should be organized in a way that concrete practice is systematically reflected in the light of human rights principles.
Training sessions can be a setting in which new recruits are socialised into the culture of the prison. The way in which they are conducted can give strong messages to new recruits about how things are done within the institution and what behaviour is expected and acceptable. Training sessions should therefore be constructive, respectful and non-discriminatory in terms of the content, format and language used.