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Legal awareness in the Czech Republic, the share of education and resocialization of the convicted An expert study

Mgr. Miroslav Špadrna,
ŠALAMOUN Association for Support of Independent Justice

More than a quarter of century after the change of the social system in the Czech Republic it can be stated that the complexity of the reality in which we live and operate is constantly growing. Social and economic life is being clogged with formalities which are based on the fact that the system considers a human being almost an enemy, someone who need to have lined everything up. It also brings the possibility to give a slap on the wrist to such a person if he/she opposes the system. Justice is a good example of these practices. Even according to the people working in the justice, it is clogged with a meaningless amount of different laws, regulations, decrees which contradict each other quite often. They do not complement each other and do not potentiate their impact, but they complicate and oppose the issues. One example for all. If a person wants to build or only to reconstruct its property he hires a lawyer who understand the Building Act. The life in the society gets so formalized that a decent person spends a lot of energy to study whether he may not harm someone accidently by his conduct.

The relationship the citizen and the state, the operation of the legal system

The relationship between the citizen and the state can be illustrated in the following way:

Education Information
State Legal system Media Knowledge Citizen
Education and teaching Expertise
Legal conscience


The state is represented by the legislative power (the Parliament), the executive (the government) and the judiciary. In terms of the legal system it can be stated that it affects the area of criminal law, commercial law and civil law. Each year, a big amount of laws and follow-up subordinate legislation, decrees, directives etc. are passed. This creates a very confusing system for the citizen in which the citizen has no chance to navigate. Amendments of adopted laws arise very frequently due to not always quality work of the Czech Parliament and they further complicate the situation, not only for the “ordinary“ citizens but also for professionals. Information on statutory laws and their influence on the work and life of man are very important since if one gets into difficult working and life situation and conduct, it applies illegally to a certain extent to what we all know: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse“.

In fact, we can speak of three main channels through which legal information “flow“ to the citizen. It is awareness, legal awareness respectively which consists of the purposeful dissemination of information about the legal system, laws, standards with the aim to influence the conduct and behaviour of people so that they move within the correct legal framework or know the legislation they can use in their favour (e.g. consumer awareness). Legal awareness is often carried out on the initiative of the state but also of the civil sector in media, in the classic media (newspaper, magazines, radio, TV) or electronic media, especially on the Internet and the social networks. The third channel is legal education and learning. This is particularly the classical, distance or combine courses in which the adult people get systematically acquainted with new statutory laws that have an influence on their life, under the guidance of a lector.
The relationship between the state and the citizen on the above-mentioned illustration is a theoretical construct of the author of this article. It is an attempt to generalize the experiences from legal practice and the activity of the Šalamoun Association for Support of Independent Justice in the Czech Republic.
The said construct has been the subject of several empirical investigations which have been going on currently. The aim of these investigations is to show possible ways how a citizen may acquire the necessary legal knowledge so that he can operate fully in the current society.
As a contemporary example can be stated the courses to the new Civil Code which brings a series of revolutionary changes to the lives of people in the Czech Republic. The educational activity is combined with self-learning, i.e. an active human activity consisting of the retrieval of needed information on statutory laws and regulations. The result of legal education and learning is processing of information, i.e. a sum of fact which adult person cannot ignore in his life (e.g. from transport). Once a person adopts this information, i.e. he memorizes it and recalls it in certain situations, we speak of knowledge. Expertise is essentially the knowledge -based personal experience of man in a given working environment. In terms of legal consciousness of man, there are situations where a person has created a legal thinking system which pre-determines his/her behaviour and conduct in work and life situations. Legal consciousness also enables people to anticipate possible problems and possible legal consequences of their actions.
Mastering, processing and using this information from the legal area is becoming literally a key competence of each one of us today. This area has a special importance in the field of law, i.e. legal information, legal consciousness, since all people in a civilized society move in a legal environment and must regulate their conduct and behaviour in the spirit and the letter of applicable laws and other standards.

The question of how the process of acquiring legal information should take place ideally needs to be addressed throughout the entire life cycle of man, starting with his school preparation. Within school educational programs, forming of so called fluid competence of man is the main pre-requisite of legal consciousness. The authors of this term are German andragogues Erpenbeck and von Rosentiel (2003). According to them, fluid competency represents the “ability of man to find a connection of his conduct and behaviour with the requirements of a specific situation. It is, in particular, a problem in life, an ambiguous situation in which one finds himself, an ambiguous goal of his conduct and behaviour and unknown means how to “get out” of the situation“. These situations are multiplied by so called dynamic field (many players) and predominantly restrictive relationships of man with his environment. It can be said that the highlight of fluid competency is the ability of man to be able and to act according to the organisation of self and according to the level of his/her legal consciousness.

The second pre-requisite for the formation of a legal consciousness of man is his creative ability. According to a Slovak pedagogue Tuma, the creative ability of man is conditioned, in particular, by genetic predisposition, beginning already in childhood due to intellect profiling. In addition, interaction with the environment which the man changes through his purposeful activity and adapts to his needs, is important for the creative ability of man. This is related also to so called innovation activity of man. Each person not only senses and accepts the outside reality but he modifies and reshapes it subsequently according to the visions of his life. This is essentially the main mission of the process of lifelong education and learning. In the thoughts of Vera Birkebihl, a German pedagogue of Czech origin, the lifelong learning is physiologically essential for the survival of the human body and this learning characterizes his integration of new knowledge into the current network of knowledge and expertise and as mobilisation of human thought process.

Generally, it can be said that, each person in contemporary society must process a certain amount of legal information to keep his conduct and behaviour within the limits of the legal system and within the limits of individual acts. Put simply, this ability enables him to live both a professional and private life in freedom, in a social environment. If he chooses from the above mentioned options of acquiring statutory laws the paths of education and learning, it will definitely cultivate his personality and strengthen the legal consciousness more than if he is only a passive addressee of legal counselling from professionals.

Obtaining information from the legal field, from statutory laws, processing them and using them is a key competency of man. The key competencies include “abilities, skills, attitudes, values and other characteristics of personality that enable the person to act appropriately and effectively in different work and life situations (Belz, Siegrist, 2001, p. 13). They are based on activities not only on knowledge. The acquisition of key competencies is a lifelong, individual process which serves to the development of personality. Key competencies were described for the first time by Dieter Mertens in 1974 who maintained a cognitive approach focused on conduct. His list of key competencies is as follows:
Basic competencies – basic though operations as a prerequisite for coping of different situation and requests.
Horizontal competencies – the ability to acquire and understand information.
Extension elements – knowledge at the level of basis cultural techniques and knowledge for a certain occupation
Time factors – to fill gaps in knowledge due to new knowledge (Belz, Siegrist, 2001, p. 28).

The potential to dispose of competencies is individual. The already mentioned authors Belz and Siegrist (2001) call this phenomenon a competency to negotiate which develops under the concurrence of – social competency, competency in relation to oneself and competency in the area of methods.
Social competence means: the ability of teamwork, cooperativeness, the ability to face conflict situations, communicativeness.
Competency in relation to oneself means: competent handling of oneself, being one's own manager, the ability of reflection towards oneself, the awareness of developing own values and human image, the ability to assess oneself and to further develop oneself.
Competency in the area of method means: applying the expertise in a planned way, with focus on the objective, developing creative, unorthodox solutions, structuring and classifying new information, putting things into context, learning connections, critically reviewing in the interest to achieve innovations, considering chances and risks (Belz, Siegrist, 2001, s. 167).

When we stem from the conception of competencies according to Belz and Siegrist we see that the competencies in the area of legal system are based on social elements of competencies, i.e. the ability of man to live among people and in an environment in which a person's conduct and behaviour is regulated by a legal system and standards. Furthermore, these competencies are based on man's relationship to oneself, i.e. self-reflection and awareness of one's position in society. Last, but not least, it's the competencies in the area of methods, i.e. to have a certain legal consciousness and the ability of applying the statutory laws as well as a social consensus in one's conduct and behaviour.

Generally, it can be said, that each person in contemporary society has to process a certain amount of legal information to maintain his conduct and behaviour within the limits of the legal system and within the limits of individual acts. Put simply, this ability enables him to live both a professional and private life in freedom, in a social environment. If he chooses from the above mentioned options of acquiring statutory laws the paths of education and learning, it definitely cultivates his personality and strengthens the legal consciousness more than if he is only a passive addressee of legal counselling from professionals. Nevertheless, there are situations in human life when one can get to the edge of the law and find himself as a convicted in prison.

In the prison practise, education and learning of the convicted constitutes an important resocialization element. An example may be known Czech sculptor Opočenský who was trained as a locksmith on the CNC machines during his sentence for abusing young girls and after being released from prison he used these skills for his further artistic work. Regarding the inclusion of the released persons in everyday life, there is an interesting survey of LMC from January this year into which 241 employers took part. The survey showed that 55% of companies would not employee a person with a criminal record. It either contradicts to internal rules or they have bad previous experiences. A frequent reason is also insufficient work habits, short or outdated practice and last but not least possible distrait of the released persons or housing problems. The implication is the necessary assistance of the state and non-profit organisations to people who have undergone imprisonment. The failure to find work, the breakdown of family and other relationships, other crime, coming back behind the bars are a typical situation of the released persons. How many people are we talking about? Last year, there were 13 thousand people released, out of it one four thousand on parole. 68% of the monitored companies want the excerpt from the criminal record.

According to the survey, many companies require clear criminal record even for the most ordinary manual jobs. I think that such a requirement is justified only if imposed by law as e.g. with pedagogical, social or health workers or functions in the state service. The survey further showed that only a few companies use subsidies from the labour offices which can be obtained for the employment of persons having an arrest in the criminal record. On the other hand, we register activities of non-profit organisations, individual curators, municipal authorities which create jobs for these people. As an example we can state Kateřina Pitáková, an entrepreneur, who operates a coffee-house Dismas in Prague near to Florenc where she employs only people with criminal past. Another interesting example of prisonization of personality is the situation of Mr. Jonák, the former owner of Disco-Land Sylvia in Prague. He came back from a long prison sentence for the murder of his wife in a situation where he did not know the new information technologies and communication technologies such as the cell phone and the Internet.

The aim of education in prison is to prepare individuals for an independent way of life. In the area of education of a convicted, the prison provides to those interested conditions for acquisition/continuous acquisition of a new qualification (cook, medic, hairdresser), or qualification renewal (such as welding license, testing in electrical engineering pursuant to Decree No.50/1978 Coll. and others) or improving working skills (operation of boilers). The convicted thereby increases his general informedness, professional ability and better conditions within employment in prison and creates better conditions in the search for success in the job market after coming back to civilian life. If he is included in the full-time study, this educational activity is viewed as if the particular individual were assigned to work. Education takes place at detached workplaces or it is ensured by the department of execution of punishment. In the education of convicted juveniles the prison authorities cooperate with schools and state administration bodies and the self-government of the educational system.

More factors are involved in resocialization, thus reintegration of the imprisoned individual back to society. The main ones include upbringing and education. Education as such promotes human and democratic values, greater social and economic responsibility and independence. It helps individuals to better succeed at the labour market, thus contributing to a lower unemployment rate. Another effect can be seen in reducing the costs of the state on different forms of social assistance, social benefits and other financial expenses. In the Czech Republic, the right on education is constitutionally guaranteed and anchored in Article 33 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. During the serving of imprisonment, the execution of certain constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms is restricted or suspended to the convicted pursuant to law No.169/1999 Coll, on serving of imprisonment. However, this does not include the right on education of a convicted. The purpose of serving of imprisonment is to protect the society against the perpetrators of criminal act, preventing the convicted from committing further crimes and educating the convicted to lead a proper life.

Education in prisons is vital for working with the prisoner and contributes to humanisation of the prison system. At the same time, it is a significant intermediary/means to allow a released prisoner to be reintegrated to society. Presumably, the first point of the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council No. (89) 12/1989 dealing with the education in prison stated that all prisoners should have access to education. According to this recommendation, education should include basic education, vocational training, cultural and creative activities, physical training and sports, social education and the possibility to visit library.

The system of education of people serving imprisonment sentences has undergone fundamental changes. On January 30, 2007, a school for persons in custody and serving imprisonment sentences with the name Střední odborné učiliště, (Secondary Vocational School) Prague 4, Na Veselí 51, Zip Code 140 67 was established by decree of the Minister of Justice No.1/2007 as an organizational unit of the Prison Service of the CR. The secondary vocational school is an educational facility providing to persons in custody or serving imprisonment sentences:
a) preparation for the execution of the occupation and professional activities in apprenticeship and study fields
b) Supplementing the basic education in the courses for acquiring basic education
c) supplementing or extending qualification in educational courses

Czech Helsinki Committee Report focused on the possibilities of education in prisons states that it considers the set educational system very satisfactory, it may only point out small shortcomings which is for example the unequal status of students in full-time study with the employed convicted in terms of their financial evaluation and additional equipment of libraries with foreign and good literature. The most important in this report is the recommendation related to the prisoners seeking to study at secondary schools or universities which is, however, not offered by the Prison Service of the Czech Republic and those individuals have to solve the entire problematic individually.

Used literature:

ČESKÉ VĚZEŇSTVÍ č. 4/2014. Publisher: the Prison Service of the Czech Republic, Prague. ISSN 1213-9297.
ERPENBECK, J., ROSENTIEL, L. Handbuch Kompetenzmessung. Sttutgart: Klett Weiterbildung Service, 2003 (study material)
HRONÍK, F. Rozvoj profesních kompetencí andragoga. Contribution to an International Conference at Matej Bel University, the Department of humanities, Banská Bystrica 23.-24.11.2006
PALÁN, Z. Lidské zdroje. Výkladový slovník. Praha: Academia, 2002. ISBN 80-200-0950-7.
TUMA, M. Tvořivé procesy člověka. Bratislava: Úrad priemyselného vlastníctva, 2001. ISBN 80-88994-08-x
VANTUCH, P. Aktuální otázky postpenitenciární péče, Brno: Masarykova univerzita, 1992 (skriptum)
VETEŠKA, J., TURECKIOVÁ, M. Kompetence ve vzdělávání. Praha: Grada Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-80-247-1770-8 - available on 5.3.2015 - The Prison Service of the Czech Republic
Trestní předpisy ÚZ 1006. Publishing house Sagit. Ostrava 2014. ISBN 978-80-7488-032-2
Act No.169/1999 Coll.
Decree No. 345/1999 Coll.