Participants and speakers at the seminar in Casablanca
Participants and speakers at the seminar in Casablanca

On 27 and 28 March 2019, the IRZ, together with the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) held a third seminar on “Social and psychological support for prisoners” in Casablanca, Morocco. The event was held as part of the “Cooperation with the Kingdom of Morocco on Prison Management” project, which is running from 2017 until 2020 with the support of the German Foreign Office.

Two experts from the Berlin prison system were appointed by the IRZ to speak at the seminar: Dr. Angelika Burghardt-Kühne, Psychologist, and Vera Schiepe, Group Leader, both of whom work at the Heidering penal institution.

Building on the previous seminars, the main focus of this event was on the following topics:

  • how prisoners deal with their crimes,
  • measures to support staff as they supervise prisoners,
  • support for reintegration measures through work-release programmes and
  • involvement of families in therapeutic measures.

For the reintegration of prisoners in Morocco, training and informal education measures are mainly offered to combat illiteracy and provide further training for prisoners. There are also measures in place for organising leisure activities and psychological support for prisoners. The DGAPR also offers a “national mental health programme” and a “national programme for preventing and combating drug addiction”. As part of the latter, working groups have been set up in five penal institutions to fight addiction in cooperation with the Ministry of Health. Social workers, social assistants, psychologists, and general practitioners work together in these working groups. Another important contribution towards the reintegration of prisoners is made by Moroccan civil society, with cultural programmes and training measures.

In Germany and Morocco, similar programmes are carried out for the reintegration and support of prisoners. In Germany, for example, a prisoner’s family is also involved in their reintegration measures, although this involvement is more limited than in Morocco. Another important programme in Germany helps prisoners to deal with their crimes, which is also set out in the law governing the prison system. By developing their appreciation of the problem, prisoners should be able to take responsibility for their actions. The prison officers’ ability to empathise and the joint development of alternative courses of action with prisoners have an important role to play here.

The experts from both countries established similar difficulties in the handling of certain groups of prisoners. Dealing with prisoners who refuse to come to terms with their crimes is a particular challenge in both countries, since participation in these programmes is voluntary in Morocco and Germany. In particular for high-risk offenders, the experts believe that there are only very limited treatment options available.

One of the main tasks for prison staff is to motivate prisoners to take part in reintegration measures. To ensure that staff are successful in this task, they need to be supported by therapeutic measures and an everyday climate that encourages treatment. Officers should be able to talk about their experiences in a protected environment. That’s why training courses covering various disciplines are essential as supporting measures.

For high-risk offenders, VERA 2 is a new European-wide instrument for assessing risk and this has already been introduced in the first German penal institutions. In Morocco, there continues to be a need for guidelines and handbooks so that social and psychological care for prisoners can be improved. The IRZ has, in close cooperation with its partners at the DGAPR, responded to this requirement with its project and set up a working group in this area as well. The objectives of this working group include appointing a pilot institution, in which a handbook planned by the working group will be introduced.