International Review of Education

, Volume 65, Issue 5, pp 735–754 | Cite as

Barriers to prisoner participation in educational courses: Insights from a remand prison in Belgium

  • Dorien BrosensEmail author
  • Flore Croux
  • Liesbeth De Donder
Original Paper


This article examines the profile of prisoners who do not take part in formal education while being incarcerated (e.g. language or ICT courses) and the barriers to participation these prisoners experience. Survey data were collected as part of a research project conducted in a remand prison in Belgium (n = 486). The results demonstrate that 29% of the prisoners take part in educational courses and that participation rates are lower among Belgian and non-European prisoners, those with either a very good or very poor understanding of the Dutch language, and those serving a short sentence. Non-participants experience mainly situational barriers (e.g. having recently arrived in prison), but they also express having preferences for other activities (e.g. working), and being confronted with informational (e.g. not being aware of the possibilities for participation), institutional (e.g. receiving no response to a request to enrol in a course) or dispositional barriers (e.g. not feeling like taking classes). Furthermore, this study investigates which individual, social network and prison-related characteristics are associated with the various categories of barriers. The article concludes with a discussion of the limitations of the study and recommendations for future research.


Prisoners barriers formal education participation 


Obstacles à la participation des détenus aux programmes d’éducation et de formation : observations d’un établissement pénitentiaire en Belgique – Cet article examine le profil des détenus qui ne participent pas à un enseignement formel durant leur incarcération (par exemple cours de langues ou d’informatique), ainsi que les obstacles à la participation que rencontrent ces détenus. Des données d’enquête ont été collectées dans le cadre d’un projet de recherche mené dans un établissement pénitentiaire de Belgique (n = 486). Les résultats démontrent que 29 pour cent des détenus participent aux cours, et que les taux de participation sont inférieurs parmi les détenus belges et non-européens, ceux ayant une compréhension très bonne ou très faible du flamand, et ceux purgeant une courte peine. Les non-participants rencontrent essentiellement des obstacles situationnels (incarcération récente), mais déclarent également une préférence pour d’autres activités (par exemple le travail), et être aussi confrontés à des obstacles informationnels (par exemple ne pas être conscients des possibilités de participer), institutionnels (par exemple ne pas recevoir de réponse à une demande d’inscription à un cours) ou personnels (entre autres ne pas avoir envie de suivre des cours). Cette étude examine par ailleurs les caractéristiques individuelles, liées aux réseaux sociaux et à l’établissement, qui sont associées aux diverses catégories d’obstacles. L’article conclut par une analyse des limites de cette étude et par des recommandations pour la recherche ultérieure.



Many thanks to the activity organisers, prison staff, volunteers and prisoners who took part in this research project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V., and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational SciencesVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Special Needs EducationGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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