Why do not more prisoners participate in adult education? An analysis of barriers to education in Norwegian prisons

Abstract

From a lifelong learning perspective, education during incarceration is crucial for prisoners’ rehabilitation. This article describes the authors’ development of their Perceived Barriers to Prison Education Scale (PBPES) and examines what deters prisoners from participating in education during their incarceration, how their perceptions differ depending on gender, age, educational level, learning difficulties, length of prison sentence, and whether the prisoners express a desire to participate in education or not. Within a larger survey conducted in all Norwegian prisons among all prisoners with Norwegian citizenship, the authors focused on those who did not participate in education (n = 838). To reveal the underlying constructs that comprise perceived barriers, they hypothesised a three-factor model to which they applied confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The analysis confirmed the model, which comprised institutional barriers (e.g. insufficient practical arrangements; lack of access to computers and to the Internet), situational barriers (e.g. education is not considered to be of help in the current situation) and dispositional barriers (e.g. having difficulties in mathematics, reading, writing and concentrating), with good fit to the data. The authors used mixed-model analyses of variance to examine differences between subgroups of prisoners. Gender, age, educational level, learning difficulties and length of prison sentence were found to influence perceived barriers. The authors also observed that prisoners who wished to participate in education were more likely than others to perceive institutional barriers and less likely to perceive situational barriers.

Résumé

Pourquoi les détenus ne participent-ils pas davantage à l’éducation et à la formation des adultes ? Analyse des obstacles à l’éducation dans les prisons norvégiennes – Dans une perspective d’apprentissage tout au long de la vie, l’éducation et la formation durant la détention sont indispensables à la réinsertion des détenus. Les auteurs de cet article décrivent la conception de leur schéma relatif aux obstacles à l’éducation en milieu carcéral (Perceived Barriers to Prison Education Scale, PBPES) et explorent divers aspects : ce qui dissuade les détenus de participer à des mesures éducatives pendant leur incarcération, dans quelle mesure leurs perceptions diffèrent en fonction du sexe, de l’âge, du niveau d’instruction, des difficultés d’apprentissage et de la durée de la peine, enfin si les détenus expriment ou non le souhait de participer à des mesures éducatives. Dans le cadre d’une vaste enquête menée dans tous les établissements pénitentiaires de Norvège auprès de tous les détenus de nationalité norvégienne, les auteurs se sont penchés sur les non-participants (n = 838). Afin de dévoiler les concepts sous-jacents dont font partie les obstacles subjectifs, ils ont pris comme hypothèse un modèle à trois facteurs auquel ils ont appliqué une analyse factorielle de confirmation. Cette analyse a confirmé avec une bonne adéquation des données les trois facteurs du modèle : les obstacles institutionnels (entre autres modalités pratiques insuffisantes, manque d’accès à des ordinateurs et à Internet), les obstacles situationnels (par exemple l’éducation n’est pas jugée utile dans la situation actuelle) et les obstacles personnels (difficultés en calcul, lecture, écriture ou concentration). Les auteurs ont appliqué des analyses de variance à modèle mixte pour examiner les différences entre les sous-groupes de détenus, et établi que les facteurs sexe, âge, niveau d’instruction, difficultés d’apprentissage et durée de la peine influencent les obstacles perçus. Ils ont en outre constaté que les détenus désireux de participer ressentent davantage que les autres des obstacles institutionnels et moins que les autres des obstacles situationnels.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Psychometric properties refer to the reliability (consistency) and validity (the results’ accuracy) of the instrument (questionnaire).

  2. 2.

    Norway has an agreement with the Netherlands to rent prison places, primarily, but not exclusively, for non-Norwegian prisoners, in order to deal with a temporary lack of space. Their sentence is served in line with Norwegian Criminal Enforcement Law, and a small number of Norwegian staff supplement the Dutch staff.

  3. 3.

    In a nutshell, a principal component analysis (PCA) serves to structure, simplify and illustrate large datasets by approximating numerous statistical variables with a smaller number of highly meaningful linear combinations (the “principal components”).

  4. 4.

    Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) serves to test whether the data collected fit a hypothesised measurement model. AMOS is a statistical software package.

  5. 5.

    A mixed-model Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA) involves two types of variables and serves to test differences between two or more independent groups.

  6. 6.

    Tukey’s honest significant difference (HSD) post hoc test serves to find means that are significantly different from each other.

  7. 7.

    Due to deletion of missing data for single items, the numbers do not add up to 838, which is the number of prisoners who did not participate in education.

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Acknowledgements

The study was initiated and supported by the County Governor of Hordaland, which is the organisation in charge of Norwegian prison education, serving the Ministry of Education. We would like to thank the staff at the County Governor’s office, the headmasters of the prison schools, and the prison governors, who organised the data collection. Most importantly, we owe our gratitude to the prisoners who participated.

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Correspondence to Terje Manger.

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Manger, T., Eikeland, O.J. & Asbjørnsen, A. Why do not more prisoners participate in adult education? An analysis of barriers to education in Norwegian prisons. Int Rev Educ 65, 711–733 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-018-9724-z

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Keywords

  • prison education
  • institutional barriers
  • situational barriers
  • dispositional barriers