USJ and the Correctional Services Bureau jointly offer a Prison Outreach Programme





“Prof. Helen Liu advocated that we have always been convinced that education brings changes, which starts from the improvement in life quality. ‘Higher education’ promotes holistic development. She encourages incarcerated individuals to rebuild their lives and create a harmonious society.”

Since 2009, the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) and the Correctional Services Bureau have been cooperating to develop an outreach programme to prepare incarcerated individuals for reentry into society by providing junior college courses to enhance their professional knowledge and increase their employment opportunities. The programme aims to guide and encourage incarcerated individuals to improve their professional quality to the college level.

The outreach programme has a rigorous application and enrolment process, in which 1) prison inmates are required to write and submit a 500-word personal statement; 2) applicants’ information is reviewed and an interview is conducted to explain the motivation for enrolling in the social work outreach programme; and 3) students who wish to continue to participate in the outreach programme must have the initiative and maintain good academic performance. There are currently 10 inmates enrolled in the junior college education programme, with students ranging in age from 23 to 43 years old. It is expected that the programme will continue to enrol inmates who are willing and qualified this summer.

The Prison Outreach Programme Leader, Prof. Helen Liu, highlighted the key points of the Outreach Programme and its benefits to the community. The programme is divided into three main phases: I) to take social work courses for inmates in prison; II) to take several subjects for rehabilitated inmates at University of Saint Joseph as they are released from prison and reintegrated into society. Students may opt to skip this stage if they wish to directly proceed to stage 3; and III) to complete the programme with a degree awarded. One student is currently enrolled in Phase III at USJ Macao.

There are currently eight full-time faculty members and two social service agency directors on the outreach programme team. The subjects in the programme are subject to the learning schedule for the Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work on campus. Prisoners will spend six years in completing a majority of social work courses in the prison, except for the internship which will be conducted on campus after release. Those who complete the whole programme will be granted a relevant college diplomat and able to work in relevant industries like social services.

The content of the course is generally in line with the Social Work Department’s curriculum. Instruction is primarily face-to-face, supplemented by reading requirements, in-class discussions, group activities and assignments, and examinations. The faculty from the USJ Macao highly recognise the class performance and learning attitude of incarcerated individuals, changing the negative and stereotyped image of the latter. Professor Liu also said that the in-prison junior college programme has helped restore prison inmates’ self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Prof. Liu added, “We have received many suggestions and feedback from students in the outreach programme. Previously, the USJ Macao strove for many resources for incarcerated individuals, such as books and English dictionaries. Currently, it is establishing a scholarship for incarcerated individuals with economic difficulties and outstanding academic performance. We have responded to prisoners’ requests for more courses so that they can make good use of their time in prison to take college courses and become more competitive and self-controlled when they rejoin society. We also actively encourage prisoners to return to campus after their release and complete their remaining courses to obtain a college diploma, so that in time they will be able to influence others through their own life stories, just as the mission and attitude of social workers.

Prof. Helen Liu is currently working on a research project on the Outreach Programme, “Resilience in Corrections After the Implementation of the Outreach Programme: a Pathway to Rehabilitation,” which is supported by a two-year research grant from the Macao Education and Youth Development Bureau. The purpose of the study is to promote research related to the establishment of higher education in prisons and to work with the Correctional Services Bureau’s Coloane Prison to establish a high-quality and effective outreach programme. At the same time, it will explore the path to rehabilitation for ex-offenders who have attended outreach programmes.

Macao Daily News feature: http://www.macaodaily.com/html/2021-04/27/node_41.htm