Friday, August 18, 2017

Inmates allowed to continue studies through distance learning and matriculation exams

Prison bars are not preventing some inmates from receiving a university education. This year’s intake at the University of Distance Education will include nine students currently serving terms at Yangon’s Insein Prison.

This year, 11 of the 19 Insein prisoners who sat the matriculation exam passed and two were subsequently released.

“Passing the exam doesn’t mean they earn their freedom. But we will give prisoners a chance to join higher education,” prison deputy director U Myo Oo told The Myanmar Times in a recent interview.

“Last year we launched a program for prisoners who had matriculated to study at the University of Distance Education,” he said.

In the 2015 academic year, 17 prisoners at Insein Central Prison took the matriculation exam, and seven passed and were accepted by the University of Distance Education. The prison pass rate was higher than the national average last year.

“Six of those seven have now been released. The one remaining inmate is studying Myanmar language at the University of West Yangon,” said U Myo Oo.

Since 2006, three prisons – Insein Central, Mandalay Central and Thayawady Central – have been offering educational opportunities to inmates.

The first prisoners to pass matriculation exams, in 2014, were Ko Hein Htet and Ko Myo Nyunt Oo. They were jailed for robbing K164 million (US$135,000) from a house in Insein township and had served more than two years by the time they passed the exam. They later continued their studies at the University of Distance Education.

This year, 101 prisoners at Insein Prison, 31 at Mandalay and 22 from Thayawady are engaged in basic education programs, according to the office of the director general of the Correctional Department.

“Of those three institutions, only prisoners at Insein were able to take the matriculation exam last year. But this year Mandalay prisoners will also be able to take the exam,” said U Min Tun Soe, deputy director of the office.

“Prisoners at Thayawady cannot yet sit the exams. But seven inmates who passed the Grade 9 exam at Thayawady were transferred to Insein Central Prison so they can sit the matriculation exam there this year,” he said.

A total of 28 prisoners, including the seven from Thayawady, will sit their matriculation exams at Insein.

Most of the would-be students are serving sentences for drug-related offences, according to U Min Tun Soe. The student with the shortest sentence related to a drug crime is doing four years, with 12 years as the maximum sentence being served by an inmate student. Sixteen of the students are in prison on rape charges, and 11 have been convicted of murder. The other offences include theft, immigration violations, robbery and impersonating a police officer.

According to the Correctional Department, none of the student inmates are political prisoners.