Location/geographical coverage

Italy, 40 universities operating in over 80 prisons with the coordination of CRUI (Conferenza dei Rettori delle Università Italiane, Conference of Italian University Rectors)

Background and description

CNUPP National University Conference of Prison Centers is an example of an institutional and interinstitutional network promoted by public universities in interaction with the Penitentiary Administration that believe it is their duty to honour their role by guaranteeing access and the carrying out of university studies also to persons deprived of freedoms, who in this way can exercise their constitutional right. It started three years ago, although a first experimentation was done in Turin twenty years ago.

The objectives in the near future are to improve the quality of training of inmates engaged in university study courses also through innovative teaching models (a first trial is underway to adopt tools for distance learning even beyond the pandemic), to improve student performance (reduction of dropouts, increase of exams taken and graduates), to work on the link between upper secondary education within Institutes and Universities.

Commitments are also envisaged with regards to the training of prison administration staff (prison police and treatment area operators), as well as with the development of research activities on prison issues.

Stakeholders and Partners

Participating Universities – CRUI – Conference of Italian University Rectors

In 2021 there are more than 1,000 inmates following university courses from the 196 university departments involved, which correspond to 37% of the departments present in the 40 universities involved.

Male and female prisoners have the right to enrol and be supported for carrying out their studies, regardless of their placement in the sections of the Institute and their possible inclusion in different circuits from the ordinary one, without prejudice to the need to guarantee the separation between the prisoners belonging to the various detention circuits.

Penitentiary institutions that have signed the application form for the Implementation Agreement are the Antonio Lorusso “Pagliarelli” prison and the Ucciardone “Calogero Di Bona” prison.

In the 2020-2021 academic year, 1,034 detained students are enrolled: 109 (10.5%) are in an external penal execution regime, 549 (53.1%) are serving a sentence in prison in medium security circuits, 355 (34.3%) in high security, and 21 (2.1%) are serving a sentence for mafia crimes; 64 are female students (6.2%).

In the first three years, universities participating in CNUPP with active students increased from 27 in 2018-19 to 32 in 2020-21 (+18.5%); the Penitentiary Institutes in which PUPs (Poli Universitari Penitenziari i.e. Prison Universities)  operate went from 70 to 82 (+17.1%); the number of students enrolled went from 796 to 1034 (+29.9%). Among these data, the significant increase in the female component stands out, going from just 28 female students in 2018-19 to 64 in 2020-21, therefore an increase of 128.6%.

896 students are enrolled in three-year degree courses (87%), while 137 attend master’s degree courses (13%). The disciplinary areas most attended by students in prison are: the political-social area (25.4%), followed by the artistic-literary area (18.6%), the legal area (15.1%), the agronomic-environmental area (13.7%), psycho-pedagogical area (7.4%), historical-philosophical area (7.3%), economic area (6.5%) and other areas (6%).

Methodological Approach

The interactions, started with the Department of Penitentiary Administration (DAP), in particular with the Directorate General of Prisoners and Treatment, responsible for training activities, made it possible to sign a memorandum of understanding in September 2019 which defines the methods for permanent confrontation between CNUPP and DAP. Shared guidelines will be soon issued to regulate university study activities within Italian prisons.

The constitution of the CNUPP allows the representatives of the individual universities to continuously discuss various problems, exchange good practices, address requests to the DAP about individual situations, and deal with problems such as, for example, the inconvenience due to the transfer of university student prisoners from a prison to another. In these cases, the CNUPP acts as an interconnected network, in which academic and administrative staff collaborate with each other and with the Penitentiary Administration to facilitate the transfer of students from one university to another.

Two other aspects that make this initiative particularly interesting are:

  1. the training of prison administration staff (prison police and operators in the treatment area) and the development of research activities;
  2. tuition fee waivers, and the free supply of textbooks, teaching materials and possibly computer equipment useful for completing the course.


Satisfaction and positive judgments from the rectors of the CRUI, who have expressed their commitment to continue and further extend the initiative.

The Rector of the University of Palermo, prof. Fabrizio Micari, points out: “To 2021, two inmates have completed the enrolment and at least eight others have activated the enrolment procedure or have expressed interest in activating it. The prediction is of at least ten students enrolled in our University by the end of the year”.

Innovation potential

This initiative has a significant potential as it involves a category of students – prisoners – that usually are excluded from any higher education programs.

Success Factors

Continuous discussion on various problems, exchange of good practices between institutional actors.


Problems due to the transfer of university student prisoners from one prison to another.

Material difficulties of enrolment and access to the online procedure, given the unavailability of access to the internet for subjects under the restriction regime.

Lessons learned

Respect of human rights and promotion of individual potential.

Collaborative work with the Penitentiary Administration can make it possible to transform detention from a “suspended” time to a fruitful period, in which inmates can undertake, if they wish, even University courses that allow them to invest in their human capital, an indispensable tool for reducing the risk of recidivism, with benefits not only for the individual but for society as a whole.


For the 2020-2021 academic year, regional taxes have been waived.

The Regional Department has allocated a total sum of 150,000 Euros to be distributed among the Sicilian Universities on the basis of projects presented by each one of them.

Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

The possibilities of extending this good practice more widely are:

  1. the constitution of an institutional and interinstitutional network promoted by public universities among them and with the Penitentiary Administration;
  2. the availability of economic funds to pay taxes and contributions, as well as the free supply of textbooks, teaching materials, and possibly computer equipment;
  3. the activation of training programs for prison staff.


CNUPP has two horizons of commitment.

Firstly, it intends to carry out activities of promotion, reflection and direction of the national university system and of the individual universities regarding the guarantee of the right to study of people detained or in external criminal execution or subjected to detention security measures.

For this reason, the first objective is represented by the commitment to arrive at guaranteeing opportunities for university courses in a widespread manner, even in geographical areas where today they are absent or poorly structured, so that the right to study can be enjoyed regardless of the penitentiary institution in which whoever has an interest finds himself imprisoned.

Hence, the commitment of CNUPP to support and accompany the possible launch of new experiences similar to those carried out so far. Furthermore, guidelines will be proposed establishing the conditions in which can best promote study paths for this particular category of students, support the commitment of teaching and administrative staff and, last but not least, foster encounters between the prison universe and the university community as a whole.

Secondly, CNUPP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice (Department of Penitentiary Administration, Department of Juvenile and Community Justice and their peripheral articulations) and with any other institution in the field, intends to define a series of guidelines for fostering higher education possibilities within prisons and more generally for people in situations of limitation of personal freedom. These guidelines, drawing from the experiences carried out so far, will be brought to the attention of the national authorities and the general public.


Autobiographical writing process in prisons

Development of the prison library

Contact details

Consiglio Direttivo – CRUI – Conferenza dei Rettori delle Università italiane


Members of the Board of Directors of the CNUPP (triennium 2018-2020)


Prof. Franco Prina, University of Turin


Prof. Andrea Borghini, University of Pisa

Prof. Emmanuele Farris, University of Sassari

Prof. Marella Santangelo, University of Naples “Federico II”

Prof. Francesca Vianello, University of Padua

University of Palermo delegate

Prof. Paola Maggio

URL of the practice Reference document

Related Web site(s)

Sapienza University of Rome

Related resources that have been developed

Framework agreement for collaboration between the universities and the penitentiary centers of Sicily

Implementıng Agreement For The Establıshment Of The Unıversıty Center Palermo Dıstrıct Penıtentıary