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Twenty years on Máchova Street

Anniversary

On 31 August 2000, the Academy´s building in Stráž pod Ralskem was inaugurated. Below, you can find a series of short articles referring to the 20th anniversary in English.

Author: Iva Prudlová
Photo: Iva Prudlová, Michal Čechoň

Part 1 – The Building

Can a twenty-year old person and a twenty-year old building be compared? Both are young and developing. Both are members of societies. They both are cared for and caring for others. The building  -like a person – needs permanent maintaining to be prevented from an early decay.

The Academy building has had to struggle with various technical problems, such as a sewer system blockage in 2007 or a very poor conditioning in the auditorium in 2016. Rotten wood windows have been replaced with plastic ones and a dirty facade has been painted. The present state of the building can be considered very good. Of course, there is always a lot to be repaired or improved.

But the building is in service – like us, the Academy staff – and it has proved to be able to embrace 350 persons on one day.

The building itself looks modern and attracts locals as well as tourists passing Máchova Street. When you are in Stráž pod Ralskem, be sure to come and see the building of the Prison Service Academy.

Let us know how you like it.

 

Part 2 – The School Premises

Our series is dedicated to the anniversary the Czech Prison Service Academy. Part 1 introduced the school building. Part 2 is going to show you round the school premises.

The campus is rather small. A twenty-year old hedge fence frames the school and rails the grounds off the busy cycle-way.

When you approach the school from the town centre, the main entrance is on your left. At the moment (May 2020), the entrance is not very attractive, despite of gold forsythia flowers waving at the by passers. We hope that in the future, the gate gets an appropriate shape.
Let´s get further. We are passing a little garden house occupied during short breaks or used for special training.

A few more steps and we find ourselves in a different world. The rear part of the building is adjoining a gorgeous lake Horka. People enjoy summer time here. Our students are shielded from the noise by full-grown trees. I will reveal a secret to you. In summer, nice mushrooms can be found under the trees.

Once we pass the lake we get to the rear entrance. You may see our students drilling behind the fence. In the future, a school canteen will be built on this place.

You can take the way back to the town centre or you can get attracted by the peaceful surroundings.

We will tell you more about the countryside in Part 3.

 

Part 3 – The Surroundings

In the two previous parts of our series we have introduced the Academy and its premises. Part 3 is devoted to the surroundings that attracts tourists not only from the whole Czech Republic, but also from abroad.

Would you like to take a swim? There is Horka Lake behind the school. The pond belongs to the oldest ones in the Czech lands but it was reconstructed in 2001 – a year after the Academy´s inauguration – and it offers sports and relaxation opportunities. The Ploučnice river with its meanders and the canal through a rock is popular among paddlers.

Do you prefer cycling or roller skating? A nice cycle track passing directly the Academy can take you to the close holiday resorts or to other attractive places. Are you a hiking lover? Ralsko is a volcano hill (696 m) with a 13th century ruin on the top. There is a wonderful view from the hill when the weather is nice.

To keep yourself healthy, you can have some water from the spa which Saint Zdislava used to curing the locals in the 13th century.

Do not worry if the weather is not very good. There are a lot of castles in the region.

Do you wish to see more countries during one single vacation? Poland and Saxony are just a stone´s throw from Stráž pod Ralskem.

Our course participants use their free time to explore the surroundings. It is maybe time for you to plan your visit of the Liberec region.

Part 4 of our series is going to invite you to the Academy tour.

 

Part 4 – The Academy Tour

Empty buildings can be creepy. Let´s get inside the Academy without students and find out how it feels.

If we had a guide like in a castle, s/he may say: Welcome to the Academy. We boast with our own flag and own logo. All visitors have to be registered at the desk. Please, present your ID. We are not in a prison facility, so you can keep your mobile phones and cameras with you.

We are in the middle circular part that connects two two-floor wings.  On the left, there is a little private canteen and a winter garden. Have a look in our modern auditorium with 90 seats.

Follow me, please. We are entering Wing A. On the ground floor, there are changing rooms for students, a few offices and a service vehicles garage. There are also a simulation cell and a simulation entrance to guarded areas. The first floor is reserved for theoretical lessons including PC classes. There is also Pedagogy Department Quarters. On the top floor, you can find a library and a permanent exhibition of illegal items confiscated from prisoners in Czech prisons. There are most of the teachers´ offices, too.

The top circular part is occupied by Logistics Department. There is also a large PC classroom. Sorry, it is like a labyrinth here. We have to go down to the multifunctional room. The Academy management offices are in the very heart of the central building.

We are entrering the second floor of Wing B. An attic room with an attached kitchenette is used for specialized courses and for informal meetings of the Academy staff. Examinations take place in two little classrooms. Let´s get down. On the first floor, there are two language classrooms, some classrooms for theoretical lessons and Financial Department offices. One more staircase and we find ourselves on the ground floor. DO-JO serves for self-defence training. Next to DO-JO, there is a body building room, changing rooms and showers. The last room you can look in, is designed for gun manipulation training.

We are back in the entrance hall. I am ready to answer your questions.

The guide would say good bye to you now.

Such a tour may take over half an hour. However, you would be absolutely exhausted. So, we invite you to visit a few interesting parts of the Academy in detail in the following parts.

Part 5 – Simulation Cell

Our Simulation Cell  has been in use since 2000. Its last reconstruction took place in 2016.

The specialized classroom serves for new uniformed staff practical training. It  is divided into two parts – a training part (a cell with standard prison equipment) and a part for the students observing.  The students practise techniques, routines and communication with prisoners. They learn about different aspects of security measures in cell-related situations in practice.  They train safe cell entering, intervention strategies using proper means of restraint in a cell and all kinds of searches that can be applied in the cell settings.  Appropriate communication including application of negotiation basics is required when the students are disposed to various simulated stress situations.

The specialized classroom is also used as a demonstration room for new civilian staff (penitentiary specialists and health care professionals). They learn about the cell living space and about the tasks the uniformed staff have to perform in the cell.

In the near future, a new building with a number of simulation cells will be opened. We hope to have better conditions for our students´  training.

 

Part 6 –  Shooting Training

In Part 5, our simulation cell was introduced. This time, we would like to invite you to have a look in the room specially equipped for shooting training which is a part of initial courses for new uniformed staff.

Shooting lessons cover both the theory and the practice. The theory includes learning about firearms, ammunition types and ballistics. Practical training – dry drill – is focused on development of basic skills such as gun use, safe gun handling, disassembly and reassembly, gun loading and unloading, shooting position,  gun cleaning rules, maintenance and storage. Only safe guns and ammunition are used by the students.

After the students acquire the required skills, they continue their training at the shooting range.

Part 7 – Unauthorized Items Exhibition

The permanent exhibition of unauthorized items confiscated from prisoners was opened in 2008.

The collection was enlarged and the room was refurbished and modernized in 2014.

The collection is divided into several parts, such as weapons (firearms, cutting weapons, stabbing weapons and other improvised weapons), escape preparations, tattoo kits etc.

The exhibition is opened to Academy course participants, elementary and secondary school students,  and/or police and customs officers.

The number of signatures and thanks in the Visitors´ Book has been increasing.  There are comments written by visitors from Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, Latvia, France, Germany, Ukraine or Texas.

Expert commentary is available to visitors.

Part 8 –  Who are our “ZOP” students

ZOP is an abbreviation formed from initial letters of “Základní odborná příprava”, which can be translated as Initial Training. It is a compulsory programme for all new prison staff / cadets.

Those who apply for a position such as Psychologist, Social Worker or Educator, attend “ZOP B2” course. It is designed to prepare specialists for all aspects of their work, especially for communication with prisoners.

“ZOP A”  is a course designed for uniformed staff. They attend theoretical lessons and practical training to become guards or prison security officers. Some can also be assigned with tasks like transferring prisoners (escorts) or handling dogs (K-9 units). You may not know that also Judicial Guards in the buildings of courts or the Ministry of Justice are prison service officers.

New medical and support staff spend a week of training in “ZOP B3” and ZOP B1” respectively.

To sum it up, all prison staff members have once attended our “ZOP” courses.

Part 9 –  Who do we train?

Since its inauguration in 2000, the Academy has been providing courses both for new staff and for prison professionals. Tens of specialization courses, seminars, professional meetings and conferences on various topics are held every year.

The target audience vary according to the specific educational activities. Some of the courses are compulsory, such as accredited education for social workers or courses for guards stationed at entrances to guarded prison areas and judicial facilities. Some are very popular – for example social-psychology training for treatment specialists (psychologists, social workers or special pedagogues) or penitentiary English language seminars for those who need it for their practice.

About 3500 persons attend different educational activities at the Academy a year. Out of them, about two thirds are attendees of in-service or lifelong programmes, seminars and conferences.

Part 10 – Language courses and seminars 2000 – 2020

The need to have prison staff who speak foreign languages was discussed in 2000. Two language classrooms were opened to meet this requirement.

Between 2001 and 2005, general English courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced students were held. Each course was 10 weeks long and the participants met once a month.

A team of professionals was prepared for their mission at the United Nations Detention Unit ICTY in Hague in a two-week course in 2006. It focused on situation model training and effective conflict prevention strategies.

In 2015, one of the classrooms was modernised to better fit interactive teaching methods. It can be considered one of the most stylish and inspiring language classrooms within European academies.

Since 2015, various English courses have been designed to support professional English improvement of selected prison practitioners. The courses last about 90 hours (6 three-day meetings). The objectives and the contents are developed for each course to particularly meet individual needs of the target group. The participants´ level of English is not important, as the methods are very progressive and effective. The results are impressive.

In addition to courses, English seminars are organized not only at the Academy, but also in the prison environment. In 2018, a group of English speaking prison professionals visited Hungarian and Romanian prisons within their language training. Some of the seminars are co-facilitated by foreign experts, for example Romanian, Polish or Texas. Participants representing other European prison systems as well as the Czech Probation and Mediation Service can also apply, which makes the meetings much more valued because exchange of information and experience can take place not only during the seminar but also during informal activities.

To reflect on the needs of Czech prisons to effectively communicate with their Polish partners, the Academy created an original language project in 2018. Polish seminars are organized and led by Czech and Polish facilitators.

The unique language training system including its innovative approaches and methods is presented at international conferences focused on prison staff education and foreign partners consider it inspiring.

Part 11 – Staff

Dear reader, if you have read all the parts above, you are probably interested in the history, presence and future of the Academy. Part 11 is about our staff in August 2020.

No institution is possible without people. It is them who create working conditions and atmosphere. They have visions and plans. They are agents of everyday activities influencing the institution´s operations and success. In case of a harmonious cooperation of all team members towards common goals, the prestige of the institution is growing.

The Academy is led by Director and his closest colleagues. The management team consists of Director, First Deputy, Economy Deputy, four heads of departments and an administrative assistant.

All four departments are equal; none is the most or the least important. However, the Academy would not be a training centre without teachers. Pedagogy Department is surprisingly small if compared with the number of the participants of various courses in a year. There are 17 teachers, most of them uniformed. The proportion of women and men teachers is about 1:3. 2020 can be considered a year of significant changes, because about one third of the teachers are getting retired. New teachers are younger and they all are experienced in prison work. Head of Pedagogy Department and his Deputy are assisted by two secretaries. A specialist in education within international cooperation is also a member of the pedagogy team.

Logistics Department is the most numerous; some of the employees however work on short term contracts. The school and the accommodation facilities maintenance, reconstructions, cleaning, purchases, various services including vehicles – this is just a rough overview of the tasks Logistics Department is responsible for. Most of the employees are women and they all are civilian (not uniformed) staff.

The smallest department is IT. There are only two specialists, but they are very busy with technical support for over 100 computer users in the classrooms and over 50 more in the offices.  As there has been a considerable evolution in on-line education due to the Covid pandemic, IT specialists have to be able to effectively face all the new challenges in compliance with the law, regulations and the conditions at the Czech prison facilities.

Apart from the departments, Cabinet of Documentation and History with three civilian employees working in a detached unit in Prague should not be left out.

None of the previous mentioned teams could work without economists who observe the budget and make the Academy staff´s salaries. Economy Department is composed by four women civil employees. One of them is also responsible for the library.

If you have read all the parts of our series carefully, you remember that the Academy provides education and training for about 3 500 people a year. Would you tell that it is possible with only 52 Academy staff members?

Part 12 – International Relations

Every educational institution is expected to have international relations, to participate in international events and/or to have stable professional partners abroad. In the Academy´s history, several different periods in connection with international cooperation can be recorded.

The first period (2000 – 2005) could be described as “promising prospects”.  Opportunities and possible benefits of bilateral cooperation with foreign partners were explored. Communication with the Slovak, the Polish, the Lower-Saxon and the Bavarian training centres developed. A PHARE project on prison staff enhancement brought information about the Dutch and the German prison systems to Czech top and middle management. The Czech system of prison staff education was presented within the projects in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The next period (2006 – 2014) noted gradual retardation of bilateral cooperation. There were several reasons; one of them was the change in international policy manifested for example in suspension of financial grants in some foreign countries. The Academy was visited by foreign professionals but most of them were not particularly interested in staff training; they wanted to learn about other fields such as technologies, economy or security in prisons. One of the exceptions was a visit from the Norwegian training centre KRUS. Bilateral agreements with the Slovak and the Polish partners were signed in 2008 but the meetings were quite rare. Some Academy teachers participated in a few international conferences and seminars but the Academy did not enter EPTA.

The situation changed in 2015.  The period that could be called “expansive and expert”  lasted till 2019. Traditional partner relations with the training centres in Nitra (Slovakia), Kalisz (Poland) and Wolfenbüttel (Lower Saxony) were restored and exchange study visits focused on specific topics such as self-defence training methods, historical research on penal systems, prison staff training centres management etc.). Documents on cooperation were signed with the prison staff training centres of France, Ukraine, Romania and Latvia. The door to information and experience for the Academy staff and for selected prison staff was opened. The Academy joined EPTA in 2016. Quality international contacts not only with European partners but also with the Correctional Management Institute of Texas made it possible to organize seminars and conferences with foreign participants and lecturers. The Academy Director and other staff members represented the Czech prison staff educational system at a number of conferences in the Czech Republic and abroad. A young institution has grown up and became an internationally recognized Academy presenting itself as a model for developing prison systems.

At the beginning of 2020, the development of international cooperation was dramatically disturbed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Planned activities were either cancelled or put off. Some conferences and seminars were organized on-line.  Fortunately, smooth communication with the partners has been kept. Partners inform each other about the situation; we exchange experience about innovative methods in teaching; we plan bilateral or international activities and state the topics and goals of professional meetings. New agreements on cooperation are going to be signed with the Slovak partner in Nitra and with the Polish training centre in Kule. The cooperation with a Lithuanian partner is being discussed.

The Academy is entering the third decade of its functioning at Machova Street with a potential to become a prestige player in the international penitentiary field. Let us wish the Academy good conditions and good luck.

Part 13 –  The Future

The previous parts of our series has described its past and present. How will its future look like? It is hard to predict, as the world is changing dramatically. New technologies, more limited resources, pandemics – there may be tens or even hundreds of factors influencing the development of the prison staff training in the future.

Let´s ask the Academy Director František Vlach about his visions and plans. What does he wish the Academy to be like in the future?

Director´s answers:

I started to work at the Academy twenty years ago. So I am pretty aware of how our school has been developing. When I was appointed the director in 2016, I had very optimistic visions and plans. I am proud that some of them have materialized.

To reach all my goals stated five years ago, there is still a lot to do.

I hope to open a simulation centre building in 2021. We really miss a dining hall and a kitchen. At the moment (August 2020), we are expecting the approval of the Ministry of Justice, on the basis of which the tender can go out. My dream is to have my first steak there in 2023.

There are lots of various reconstructions – both in the school and in the hostel – going on. Our students will be happy to use a modern fitness room and a relaxation room. The furniture in the hostel rooms made by prisoners at Mírov Prison is elegant. New bathrooms and kitchens are going to serve our students well.

I still have optimistic visions.

Every school should have a piano and a sports hall. We already have a piano so we have to make our efforts to build a sports centre for our students´ professional preparation and leisure time. I wish our students to have a nice and modern club, too. We could celebrate various occasions like the Teachers´ Day, the Czech Prison Service Day or birthdays there. Such a club would also create a suitable place for informal meetings with our foreign colleagues.

I have been thinking of the Academy as of a school or a training centre. But I wish it to become a penal research centre of the Czech Prison Service. Such an institution would have much more to offer and share with its foreign partners.

In my dreams, I see a wonderful big team consisting of professionals training prison staff; of motivated and creative administrative and support employees; and of scientists doing effective and useful research.  I see them working together in a pleasant atmosphere. And of course, I see brilliant leaders creating good conditions for the professional and personal development of each team member. Such an institution can achieve ambitious plans.

In 1996, Baby Training Centre was born in Stráž pod Ralskem – the first initial course was opened. In 2000, the Child entered the new building of the then Institute of Education.  In 2016, the Academy became a Young Girl. In twenty years, the Academy is going to be Beautiful Matured Lady who knows what she wants and what direction she is going to. And this is the future I wish the Academy.

 

Visit also:

https://www.vscr.cz/akademie-vs-cr/archiv/novinky/