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  • Classes offered were Discussion, Civics, English, and Arithmetic.

  • Classes were held in the Chapel. There were no desks, just low benches. The students used their laps or sat on the floor and used the benches as desks.

  • Students took overseas Oxford and Cambridge examinations and succeeded.

  • The Superintendents of Prison did not always approve the educational programme.

  • In the early days, women appealed to three Superintendents to have classes started for them, but this request was refused each time. (From an interview with Leslie Harris conducted by Pearl Riefter, Dec. 1994)

Despite these provisions, there were numerous problems with Barbados’ prison education system: (a) there was an age limit, whereby inmates over the age of 25 years were not allowed in the programme; (b) there was the issue of limited infrastructure and a lack of variety in the programmes offered which were, at times, not recognized by those in higher authority; and (c) it was gender biased since it excluded females. This meant that there had to be some reform, in order to give quality education and universal access to all inmates regardless of age or gender.

This reform took place in 1990. The mandate of the World Conference on Education for All was adopted in Barbados, which meant that quality and equal access to education had to be provided for all. The UN Resolutions on Prison Education, which recommended that all prisoners should have access to education, including literacy, basic education, vocational training, and social education, were also adopted. Barbados also began to pay special attention, in succeeding years, to the Hamburg Declaration on Adult Education and its accompanying Agenda for the Future, which state that all prisoners have the right to learn. The Declaration and Agenda echo the importance of implementing comprehensive education programmes in prisons, which is what Barbados is attempting to do.

Literacy and Skills Training in Barbados’ Prison System

Reform saw the offering of the following courses at the prison, organised by the School of Continuing Studies of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, Barbados, which were perceived as employment oriented, providing communication skills for those who were illiterate, and seeking to expose inmates to important life skills such as human values for living:

  • Literacy Courses: English and Mathematics, leading to the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate issued by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).

  • Vocational Skills: Auto mechanics, office procedures, sewing and design (textile and fashion design), developing a small business, home economics, tailoring and design, agriculture, horticulture, electronics, hat making, bag making, carpentry, electrical work, animal husbandry, a farming programme (started June 15, 1992 on 23 acres, producing yam, sweet potatoes, beans, okras, melons, cane, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, etc.), culinary arts, and furniture making (cradles, chairs, tables, desk, stools, drawers, single beds, bunk beds, divans, and room dividers; upholstery is also done).

The UWI School of Continuing Studies arranged for one student to take the American General Education Diploma (high school equivalent) examination. The student was successful. Based on these course offerings, the following overall observations could be made:

  • The skills taught are very relevant to employment-oriented opportunities in the wider community.

  • They provide occupation for the inmate while in prison and on release to the outside world.

  • Education in prison will enable the inmates to be gainfully employed when released from prison


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