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Penitentiary Staff Training in Times of COVID-19: EPTA Annual Conference Successfully Fosters European Cooperation

11 November 2020

The 2020 EPTA Annual Conference took place on 28 and 29 September and was organized by this year’s EPTA President, the Slovakian Training Center of the General Directorate of the Corps of Prison and Court Guard, together with The EPTA Steering Committee and the NHC.

Considering the challenges experienced by training academies all across Europe, the focus of this year’s conference was on exchanging lessons learned and good practices on penitentiary staff training during COVID-19. Due to continuing COVID-19 measures and rising infection numbers, the decision was made to organize the conference online. While this prevented EPTA members to meet each other this year in Bratislava, the Slovakian Presidency nevertheless arranged for interesting discussion and exchange of practices to help members navigate remote training in the coming period.

Conference proceedings: Day 1

The conference commenced with a welcome speech by Prof. Dr. Jozef Valuch, Director of the Slovakian Training Center. The two-day conference included both contributions from the EU-funded EPTA project, coordinated by the NHC, as well as presentations by EPTA members themselves. The former included a presentation by EuroPris, as the official EPTA Secretariat, that introduced the new EPTA website. The new website functions as an interactive platform that better facilitates remote cooperation and exchange among members.

The conference also allowed for some reflection on the functioning of the EPTA network, its Steering Committee and the progress of the current project. Findings from a mid-term evaluation showed positive results regarding the collaboration in the project group, the functioning of the network, and general appreciation of the annual conferences. Overall, members indicated they consider the network to have an added value to individual staff members and the project is on track to achieve its intended result.

A big thanks and congratulations to the NHC and all its partners for their cooperation in putting together these two projects that help EPTA develop. Very happy to hear the good results of the mid-term evaluation, and looking forward to future results! – Emmanuelle Cretin-Magrand, European Commission

Another positive announcement was that of the new EU-funded EPTA project that will continue to support the network in its process of growth and professionalization. The project will build on the results achieved during the current project but also facilitate a crisis-management workshop and actively stimulate criminal justice chain cooperation, amongst other activities. The rest of the first day was devoted to presentations by EPTA’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs), who presented some of their work on training regarding leadership and management, dynamic security, and managing difficult inmates. All three SIGs are in their final phase of writing and their guides on training best practices, minimum standards and handbook will be published on the EPTA website soon.

Conference proceedings: Day 2

On the second day, participants exchanged their experiences in addressing the changed circumstances due to COVID-19. There were some recurring trends, such as the sudden necessity to shift towards online working that caused members to quickly adapt and be acquainted with new (hybrid) training methods or platforms. Overall, this resulted in improved technological and communication skills of staff members and an update of information resources. Members also experienced similar challenges, such as the dependence on smooth technological functioning. Slow internet connections and technical problems proved to be complicated at times but were overall properly managed.

Overall, this year’s EPTA Annual Conference managed to bring members together in times of social distancing as well as welcome five new members from the Institut de Formation Pénitentiaire Luxembourg, the Educational Institute of the Custodial Institutions Agency the Netherlands, the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses Turkey, the Bila Tserkva Penitentiary Staff Training Center of Ukraine and the Academy of the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine.

Both in its form and function, the EPTA Annual Conference familiarized its members with the tools to successfully continue their European cooperation remotely.

For more information about the EPTA network, its members or the full report and materials from the conference, please visit the EPTA website. Please also check the NHC website for more information on the current and new EPTA project.