Who are persons in detention?
Generally, when we think about persons in detention, we think of persons who have committed a criminal offence. However, the majority of persons incarcerated in the world are in pre-trial detention, which means that they have not been convicted of a crime.
Persons in detention also include illegal migrants in administrative detention centres and people in health centres (psychiatric institutions, treatment centres for drug or alcohol addiction, etc).
There are many children held in detention, who form a particularly vulnerable group. Many are deprived of their liberty because of ‘status offences’ (acts that are not considered offences for adults but are for children) such as: truancy, begging, running away from home, consumption of drugs or alcohol, living on the street, curfew violation, etc. Some children are also held in detention in conflict areas (for example in Palestine). Others are held as a result of their mother being detained.
The right to education of persons in detention
Persons in detention are amongst the most socially disadvantaged groups in society. Their right to education is very often denied both before and during their incarceration. This is particularly problematic because education can play a key role in rehabilitation and reintegration back into society.
Regarding juvenile justice systems in particular, even though a few improvements have been made, they have been in general unable to provide sufficient quantity and quality of training and education to children. Most detained children receive inadequate, poor quality education, ill-suited to their needs, and in some countries, children fail to receive any form of state-provided education at all (2009 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education of persons in detention).
Often access to education of good quality is denied to persons in detention; however, the right to education is a human right and should be guaranteed to everyone.
Unlike many other groups who endure discrimination, people in detention do not benefit from a dedicated legally binding text. However, the main international treaties that guarantee the right to education without discrimination apply to persons in detention (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Convention on the Right of the Child; UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention contain specific provisions on education of persons in detention.
In addition, a numbers of international and regional non-binding instruments provide rules, guidelines and principles for the implementation of the right to education of persons in detention. For example, according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners education of illiterate and young prisoners shall be compulsory. The UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty clearly states that every juvenile of compulsory school age has the right to education and to vocational training. The UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners states that all prisoners shall have the right to education aimed at the full development of the human personality.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, in a 2009 report, recommends the development of binding international law and constitutional and/or legislative instruments to guarantee the right to education of persons in detention.