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Higher education & personal change in prisoners

By Anne Marie Reuss


This thesis concerns the paradox of Higher Education in prisons - paradox because the aims, practices, ideals and ideologies of the former are recognisably at odds with those of the latter, whose concern is essentially 'human containment'. Based on a three-year classroom ethnography of men undergoing the University of Leeds Diploma Course in\ud Social Studies, whilst serving sentences in H.M.P. Full Sutton (a maximum security dispersal prison), the thesis contends that those inmates experience the course in a\ud profound manner.\ud \ud The primary concern is that a course of Higher Education in prison can effect change or transformation in prisoner-students who assimilate the course material in a complex\ud process of learning and social interaction which is 'woven', or synthesised into their life experience. The thesis argues that elements of this process are retained by prisoner-students, that they become embedded in their conscience, and interpreted as meaningful experience, having the potential to influence or direct post-release behaviour. The learning is therefore a process of empowerment.\ud \ud The research focuses on how the potential for change occurs, what the nature of the change is and how to articulate the process. It is widely believed that education\ud programmes undertaken whilst in prison may be rehabilitative and so the research seeks clarification of:\ud \ud a) how the interactive and integrative learning processes in the prison classroom have the potential to re-invest prisoner-students with a positive sense of self,\ud \ud b) the opportunities with which prisoner-students are presented to develop those skills considered of value in a complex and profoundly regulated society.\ud \ud The study shows that acquiring new knowledge in prison is a social process embedded in the wider context of the individual prisoner's life experiences and personal identity\ud formation. Through examination and evaluation of the learning processes the study reveals that the acquisition of that knowledge is uniquely shaped by the experience of\ud long-term imprisonment for each prisoner and that this level of educational attainment negates the marginalisation and exclusion experienced by some prisoners on release.\ud Data was gathered through field-work as a participant observer whilst teaching the prisoners. Classroom interactions and conversations were noted and subjected to\ud qualitative analysis to develop and test the theory that there is a linkage between studying at degree level whilst imprisoned, and personal development or change. The findings take the form of classroom narratives, supported by questionnaires and interviews. Additionalmaterial was gathered from secondary sources on prison education, penal policy and adult learning

Publisher: School of Sociology and Social Policy (Leeds)
Year: 1997
OAI identifier:

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