LBB – Overview

Increased numbers of foreign national inmates presents a huge challenge to prison staff.  Prison staff work very hard to maintain order under difficult circumstances, and language barriers can make it extremely difficult for them to communicate important information with the inmates they are responsible for, making their work even harder.  However, it can also have a negative effect on offenders’ knowledge of legal rights, or court cases, access to medical and psychiatric care, participation in work, education and training, contact with family and the outside world, and resettlement opportunities. (Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen, 2008).

A multi-lingual, inter-cultural learning programme that engages both foreign national offenders and prison staff might promote better and more effective communication, prevent unnecessary additional psychological and emotional stress, make life easier for prison staff and facilitate more effective rehabilitation.

In the long term, the project offers new vocational training opportunities for prison staff, whilst equipping offenders with the language skills, cultural empathy and self-reflection which contribute to better integration into society and the work force.



The rationale of this project is based on the high numbers of foreign national prisoners in European prisons.  An EU study ‘Foreigners in European Prisons’ (Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen, 2008) found that of 608,703 prisoners in the EU, 114,832 of these were foreign national.

The over-representation of foreign nationals in the criminal justice system can be attributed to genuinely higher crime rates resulting from institutional inequalities and marginalisation, but also to a growing culture of ‘enemy penology’ in Europe.  This is in danger of being further perpetuated within the prison institution due to a lack of cultural understanding and an inability to communicate basic needs, rights and obligations within the prison context, i.e. asking for basic things, requesting to see legal representatives, understanding visitation rules and procedures, communicating health concerns and understanding parole processes and conditions.  The 2008 report found that linguistic problems resulted in lack of communication, which contributed to (although isn’t the main cause of) other issues, such as lack of knowledge about legal rights / position / case, less access to medical/psychiatric care, exclusion from work / education and training, difficulty in maintaining contact with family, deprivation of contact with outside world, no or fewer opportunities for resettlement programmes.  The study found that prison authorities often do not take into consideration the special communication needs of foreign national prisoners (Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen, 2008).

The Project LBB will develop an inter-lingual, inter-cultural learning programme that incorporates not only the education of offenders on prison-communication and cross-cultural awareness, but also that of prison officers.  This will help prison staff and foreign national inmates to communicate basic things in a common language, and help encourage a better cultural understanding of each other.  This will help to minimise unnecessary psychological and emotional stress, and facilitate more effective rehabilitation.

However, being able to understand and communicate with others in a prison setting is conducive not only to more a productive and effective time in prison, but affords inmates the language skills, cultural empathy and self-reflection which contribute to better integration into society and the work force after release.

The emphasis on providing training for prison staff is pursuant to the findings of the Grundtvig funded “Pathways to Inclusion” final report, following the conference in Budapest 2010, which states that:

“Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the training of staff engaged in prison education, in order to equip them more effectively for coping with the special challenges – social and psychological as well as pedagogical – of working in this environment” (p5).

The 2010 report identifies not only the training of staff per se but the awareness-raising amongst staff of the benefits of prison education as being of key importance.  This is echoed in the 2011 Directorate General for Education and Culture commissioned review of Prison Education and Training in Europe, where it is stated that “prison officers should be viewed as key players in encouraging prison education” and that “their training should also be improved” since “they have the potential to motivate prisoners to engage in education as they are the people that have most contact time with them” (p13)

Work has been done already on improving communication between offenders and staff in a prison context.  The Prison Translator, a joint project between the Prisons of the Canton of Zürich and the European Prison Education Association, provides an extensive and comprehensive list of relevant phraseology for various sections of prison life which can be translated into and between 22 international languages (see  The project “Eliminating Language Barriers in European Prisons through Open and Distance Education Technology” sought to break down communication barriers through second-language instruction to prison personnel.

The idea of LBB is take the concept of these projects further, that is to develop classroom-based foreign-language instruction with strong intercultural components that can be used to provide staff and inmates with a common language of basic communication (be it the local language, or a relevant European language) geared to the communication needs of the prison population, whilst encouraging a greater cultural understanding of one-another and of their surroundings.  As a European-wide language-learning tool, LBB will establish a system whereby language and cultural skills can be practised and enhanced by inmates through written (and moderated) correspondence with inmates in partner countries.  The aim is for prison staff to take an active and encouraging role in this, thus further cement their awareness of the positive effects of prison education.  In terms of staff development, European consistent certification will be developed to provide a clear benchmark for the inter-lingual and cross-cultural competence of prison staff working with foreign national offenders.

As a multi-lateral project, this project will provide a platform to share experience and good practice.  Multi-lateral co-operation will result in a research report, a training course with trainer’s materials, a good practice guide for using English language and cultural training to ease communication tensions between staff and foreign-national inmates in prison, and a second good practice guide for employing cross-cultural written correspondence as a means to enhance cultural awareness amongst the prison population.



LBB aims to:

  • Promote communication in  a common language in a prison setting
  • Encourage more effective interactions between foreign national offenders and prison staff
  • Help to reduce unnecessary pressure and emotional stress on staff and offenders
  • Facilitate more effective rehabilitation of foreign national offenders
  • Provide skills to help improve integration into society and the work-force after release
  • Offer vocational certification to prison staff
  • Raise awareness amongst prison staff of communication needs
  • Engage prison staff in offenders’ education programmes



The main activities of the LBB project between October 2012 and September 2014 include the following:

  • Comprehensive desk research in which the current state of prison education and prison staff training, European and national policy, and the results of previous prison education projects will be investigated.
  • An in-depth focus group study to measure the current needs and perspectives on communication difficulties in prison.
  • Developing, piloting and evaluating a cross-cultural prison communication programme for prison staff and foreign national offenders using a mix of classroom instruction, ICT and workbook-based activities.
  • Establishing assessment and accreditation methods for the certification of foreign language and inter-cultural competences of prison officers working with foreign-national offenders, setting new European benchmark standards.
  • An inter-prison language and cultural written exchange to help inmates practice language skills and reflect on their own cultures, in which prison staff take an active and encouraging role.
  • The results of evaluation and feedback from the piloting will contribute to the final design and publication of a Good Practice Guide for enhancing communication between prison staff and foreign national offenders.
  • The project will be presented at European events and conferences.


LBB Products

Here you can download the products of the LBB project.  Below you will find more information about these products, and how to use them.

The project products are also available in the languages of the partner countries. Please ask for them by contacting us.


Overview of LBB Products

The LBB tools consist of a workbook, a series of illustrated flashcards, visual dialogue builders and an ICT-based audio practice tool.  The project also developed a correspondence programme for promoting cooperation between different prisons, given inmates the chance to practice asking and answering questions.  Lastly the project produced an assessment tool for the certification of communication competences.  Originally this was intended for prison staff, but an adapted version was created for use with prisoner learners, giving teachers and trainers the possibility to assess and certify competences developed by prisoners, should this be desirable.



The workbook – similar to a conventional language learning ‘textbook’ – is a set of learning units designed to meet the communication needs in a prison context.  Ranging from giving personal information and talking about nationalities to giving and understanding prison-specific instructions and discussing rights and obligations in prison, this workbook can be used by both prisoners and staff looking to improve their ability to communicate with other people in prison.

The structure of the book enables its use both in classroom and training settings, but also for private learning.  Learners are encouraged to use the book to note down translations in their own language, to keep a record of words and phrases for practical reference.

The workbook doesn’t only emphasise functional language, but exposes learners to a culture of positive interaction.  Dialogues between prisoners, detainees and staff are based around the conventions of polite conversation where terms such as “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you” are common practice.  Not only does this promote politeness and respect amongst prisoners and detainees when interacting with prison staff, but evidence from the piloting of the programme indicated very strongly that staff using polite terminology in the native languages of the prisoners and detainees with whom they are talking has a profound impact on the subsequent level of respect and cooperation.

Teachers and trainers can choose to observe the structure of the book, however there is no requirement to do so.  Teachers and trainers can select individual sections and activities within the workbook to support and complement their existing educational programmes.  In this way, the LBB materials needn’t replace existing tools and programmes, but can help to provide context and specific content to teachers’ and trainers’ own portfolio of materials.




Imagery is hugely important in learning languages in prison settings, and is as useful for prisoners and detainees as for prison staff.  An extensive set of flashcards can be used in training sessions, but can also be equally useful in practice; when communicating specific things in a prison setting without linguistic resources, imagery can help get messages across and reduce misunderstandings and the tension in communication.

A total of 125 flashcard images can be used to represent objects, people, activities or instructions across a diverse range of topics.


Visual Dialogue Builders

The workbook itself is illustrated through various comic-strip style dialogues, showing visually the interaction between prisoners, detainees and various types of staff.

All of these individual comic frames are reproduced without dialogue, allowing an infinite number of individualised dialogues to be created and practiced.  This affords a huge amount of flexibility and creativity to adapt teaching and training to the unique institutional context.  These are made available in full-colour printable A4 format for teachers and trainers to print, cut up and integrate into their teaching resources.

The words, instructions and phrases are also made available through a digital platform, where prison staff, inmates and detainees can proceed through a rich series of language acquisition activities, developed to help build up phrases word by word, with audio support to hear how the words and phrases should sound in the target language.  Available currently through an online platform, the tool is suitable to the growing number of institutions offering restricted internet access, whilst also serving the needs of prison staff who can set aside time to listen to the material.

The tool allows the user to focus on hearing single words, for example objects in the cell, which are presented in two languages, along with a picture of the item, but it also helps the user to acquire full phrases – the most important phrases they need in the prison context – by gradually exposing the user to the smaller components of the phrase, building up to a full phrase, along with appropriate question forms, and both its positive and negative constructions.

This repetition of words and phrases as they increase in complexity will help users with both visual and audio learning styles, whilst a series of additional practice activities are suitable for those with a range of different learning styles.


Assessment and Certification

It was originally planned to make the course for staff accredited.  However, given that each prison will have different needs and different working contexts it is inappropriate to develop any universal evaluation system for either prisoner learners or staff.

However, basing our planning on the needs and requirements of the prisons themselves, it was decided to develop a more flexible, internal assessment and certification system that could enable teachers and trainers, along with prison managers, to specify specific learning criteria that they wish to pursue within the unique context of their institution, and to use this as the basis for certifying the staff, and monitoring the progress of their communication competence development.  To this end, the LBB project developed an adaptable evaluation system for both target groups.  It gives teachers and trainers the possibility to set (in collaboration with prison staff and management) the specific functional competences required.

Using the Excel spreadsheet template under each unit of the course, the teacher or trainer can use the following form to list the intended learning outcomes.  From these learning outcomes, the teacher or trainer can identify which are relevant for each individual learner by putting an X into the corresponding cell in the blue column.  In the grey columns, the teacher or trainer can type in an X in each line, according to the extent to which the skill has been fulfilled.



In addition to the unit-pages there is an assessment card, in which all data is collected from the unit pages, is calculated and presented in the form of an assessment overview and certificate.




To maximise the growth and adaptability of the LBB materials, the following has been created as part of the project:

  • LBBx is a spreadsheet-based document which codifies all of the text written in the workbook.  On the basis of LBBx (which is currently only done in English, but which can very quickly be produced in the other language versions of the project), each chunk of text can be translated into further languages.
  • For production of new LBB materials, please contact die Berater for more information.


Train the Trainer

Train the Trainer Programme

The TTT programme was originally seen as a means of training teachers how to use the LBB materials.  However, there was nothing explicitly planned to make teachers want to use LBB materials, or to attend such a TTT programme.  The new Erasmus+ funding programme opened up the opportunity to create a strong and long-lasting synergy between the European Prison Education Association (EPEA) who want to bring prison educators from across Europe together in dialogue and best-practice sharing, and the LBB project team who want as many people to use the LBB materials as possible.  By turning the TTT programme into a more intensive blended-mobility programme based on the broader topic of multilingualism in prisons and the ways to address this through education and training, the LBB project team were able to create an attractive programme that prison educators can get European funding to attend, and which the EPEA would be willing to offer as a means of providing value for its members.  Even if prison educators had no idea about the materials developed through LBB, they might be interested in broader professional development programmes concerning communication training in prisons, and the LBB tools and materials could be directly integrated into this programme, enabling prison educators to assess and evaluate the usefulness of LBB tools and materials in the context of their own work places, and learn how to set up a communication course that might incorporate the LBB products.  This ‘back door’ approach to sustainability and exploitation means that we are attaching the core LBB products onto something that our target group would already be interested in, and which would provide added value to the stakeholders involved.

To this end, the final concept of the training workshop has been built into a larger 58-page training manual which provides a learning context and background to the learner, directs them to various online resources, and asks them to reflect on various points, writing notes and preparing reports.  As a blended-learning course, the TTT gives learners the opportunity to learn in their own time, with the requirement that they attend a 3-day residential training.  Some aspects of this module are required to be completed as part of this residential course, and are identified with a ‘group-work’ symbol and learners are encouraged to prepare for these activities in advance, looking through the tasks and completing the necessary preparation material.

In this way, the activities proscribed by the group work symbol reflect the content of the TTT course.  The trainer can then work around these group activities, ensuring that the following learning aims are met:

·       Reflect on the unique situation and conditions concerning foreign national detainees, and the influence this has on communication needs in prisons and detention facilities

·       Critically evaluate the provisions for language acquisition training in your working environment

·       Understand how LBB tools can be used in practice, and assess their practical merits

·       Identify in detail various problems and solutions regarding language acquisition training with foreign national detainees and prison staff

·       Discuss the implications of different learning styles and teacher roles in using LBB tools

·       Identify the scope for exploiting LBB tools in various different contexts, using different materials, and building on existing material

For more information on the EPEA and their upcoming training events, go to



die Berater®






Prison Fellowship Bulgaria


Gevangenenzorg Nederland


Seeds for Growth
United Kingdom


Pathways to Inclusion

“Pathways to Inclusion – Strengthening European Cooperation in Prison Education and Training”

The conference “Pathways to Inclusion” was held by the European Commission in Budapest in 2010, co-hosted by the Hungarian prison service.  It is seen as one of the flagship initiatives by the European Commission at promoting best practice in Prison Education.

Key messages from the conference were that:

1) The prison population is increasing, with greater cultural and linguistic diversity presenting challenges – as well as opportunities – to training and education within the prison

2) Prisoners have the same right to education as other citizens.  Education plays a crucial role in rehabilitation, and needs to be delivered holistially, with a focus on cross-agency collaboration

3) Education in prison needs to keep up with developments in ICT based learning

4) Education doesn’t include only formal education, but also non-formal and informal learning.  Validation of non-formal and informal learning should be a priority.

5) Greater emphasis is needed on training prison staff – those that are involved in providing education in prisons.  Well-trained prison officers are needed to help create – and promote – positive learning environments for offender learning.

6) Prison officials, as well as the general public, need to be made more aware of the benefits of prison education, and ist contribution to a safer, more inclusive society.

The activities of the proejct LBB fall very much within the framework of these recommendations, and we are confident that the project LBB will contribute to the realisation of these principles on a European level.



Holger Bienzle

Head bridges to europe

„die Berater“
Unternehmensberatungs GmbH
Wipplingerstraße 32/Top 23-25
A-1010 Vienna
Tel.: +43 1 532 45 45-0
Fax: +43 1 532 45 45-1145


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.