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


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.


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4


  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.


  1. Asbjørnsen, A. E., Manger, T., & Eikeland, O. J. (2015). Symptoms of ADHD are related to education and work experience among incarcerated adults. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 2(1), 18–30.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Brosens, D., de Donder, L., Dury, S., & Verté, D. (2015). Barriers to participation in vocational orientation programmes among prisoners. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 2(2), 8–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Case, P., & Fasenfest, D. (2004). Expectations for opportunities following prison education: A discussion of race and gender. Journal of Correctional Education, 55(1), 24–39.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Christie, N. (1970). Modeller for fengselsorganisasjonen. I stedet for fengsel [Models for the organisation of prisons. Replacement of prisons]. Oslo: Pax.

  5. CoE (Council of Europe). (2006). Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European prison rules. Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 11 January 2006 at the 952nd meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Retrieved 10 April 2018 from http://www.refworld.org/docid/43f3134810.html.

  6. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioural sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cross, K. P. (1981). Adults as learners. Increasing participation and facilitating learning. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Darkenwald, G. G., & Merriam, S. B. (1982). Adult education: Foundations of practice. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Eikeland, O. J., Manger, T., & Asbjørnsen, A. E. (Eds.). (2009). Education in Nordic prisons: Prisoners’ educational background, preferences and motivation. Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Eikeland, O. J., Manger, T., & Asbjørnsen, A. E. (2016). Utdanning, arbeid, ønske og planar [Education, work, wishes and plans]. Bergen: Fylkesmannen i Hordaland, Utdanningsavdelinga.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Eikeland, O. J., Manger, T., & Asbjørnsen, A. (2017). Innsatte fra Albania, Litauen og Polen: Utdanning, arbeid, ønske og planer [Prisoners from Albania, Lithuania and Poland: Education, work, educational wishes and future plans]. Bergen: Fylkesmannen i Hordaland, Utdanningsavdelinga.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Flynn, S., Brown, J., Johnson, A., & Rodger, S. (2011). Barriers to education for the marginalized adult learner. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 43–58.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Greenhouse, S. W., & Geisser, S. (1959). On methods in the analysis of profile data. Psychometrika, 24(2), 95–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gröning, L. (2014). Education for foreign inmates in Norwegian prisons: A legal and humanitarian perspective. Bergen Journal of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice, 2(2), 141–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Gustavsson, A.-L. E. (2013). Serbian prisoners in Sweden. In K. Westrheim & T. Manger (Eds.), Ethnic minority prisoners in Nordic prisons. Educational background, preferences and needs. A qualitative study of prisoners from Iraq, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Somalia (pp. 127–156). Bergen: County Governor of Hordaland.

  16. Hair, J. F., Jr., Andersson, R. E., Tatham, R. L., & Black, W. C. (1995). Multivariate data analysis with readings (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Jones, L. Ø., Manger, T., Eikeland, O. J., & Asbjørnsen, A. E. (2013). Participation in prison education: Is It a question of efficacy-beliefs rather than actual skills? Journal of Correctional Education, 64(2), 41–62.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kirk, R. E. (1982). Experimental design: Procedures for the behavioural sciences (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Langelid, T. (2017). The development of education in Norwegian prisons. In P. S. Smith & T. Ugelvik (Eds.), Scandinavian penal history, culture and prison practice. Embraced by the welfare state (pp. 225–249). Palgrave Studies in Prison and Penology series. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  20. Manger, T., Eikeland, O. J., & Asbjørnsen, A. E. (2013). Effects of educational motives on prisoners’ participation in education and educational desires. European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, 19(3), 245–257.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Manger, T., Eikeland, O. J., & Asbjørnsen, A. E. (2016). Norske innsette: Utdanningsmotivasjon og hinder for utdanning i fengsel [Norwegian prisoners: Academic motivation and barriers to education]. Bergen: Fylkesmannen i Hordaland, Utdanningsavdelinga.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Manger, T., Eikeland, O. J., Asbjørnsen, A. E., & Langelid, T. (2006). Educational intentions among prison inmates. European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, 12(1), 35–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Manger, T., Eikeland, O.-J., Diseth, Å., Hetland, H., & Asbjørnsen, A. (2010). Prison inmates’ educational motives: Are they pushed or pulled? Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 54(6), 535–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. NMER (Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research). (1998). Lov om grunnskolen og den vidaregåande opplæringa [Law on primary and secondary education]. Oslo: Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Retrieved 27 April 2018 from https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/1998-07-17-61.

  25. NMJPS (Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security). (2002). Straffegjennomføringsloven [Norwegian Criminal Enforcement Law]. Oslo: Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Retrieved 27 April 2018 from https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2001-05-18-21.

  26. Papaioannou, V., Anagnou, E., & Vergidis, D. (2016). Inmates’ adult education in Greece: A case study. International Education Studies, 9(10), 70–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rasmussen, K., Almvik, R., & Levander, S. (2001). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, reading disability, and personality disorder in a prison population. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 29(2), 186–193.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Rezabek, R. J. (1999, October). Barriers to distance education enrollment. Paper presented at the TeleLearning Conference, Austin, Texas, October.

  29. Rose, C. (2004). Women’s participation: What we know and what we don’t know. Journal of Correctional Education, 55(1), 78–100.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Rubenson, K., & Desjardins, R. (2009). The impact of welfare state regimes on barriers to participation in adult education. A bounded agency model. Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 187–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Rutter, M., Caspi, A., Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, J. L., Goodman, R., Maughan, B., et al. (2004). Sex differences in developmental reading disability: New findings from 4 epidemiological studies. JAMA, 291(16), 2007–2012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Samuelsson, S., Gustavsson, A., Herkner, B., & Lundberg, I. (2000). Is the frequency of dyslexic problems among prison inmates higher than in a normal population? Reading and Writing, 13(3–4), 297–312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Statistics Norway. (2016). Fengslinger 2014 [Imprisonments 2014; online resource]. English version retrieved 10 April 2018 from https://www.ssb.no/en/sosiale-forhold-og-kriminalitet/statistikker/fengsling/aar/2016-03-16.

  34. Tukey, J. (1949). Comparing individual means in the analysis of variance. Biometrics, 5(2), 99–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Ugelvik, T. (2016). Prisons as welfare institutions? Punishment and the Nordic model. In Y. Jewkes, B. Crewe, & J. Bennett (Eds.), Handbook on prisons (pp. 388–403). London and New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  36. UN (United Nations). (2012). Universal declaration of human rights. Article 26. New York: United Nations. Retrieved 10 April 2018 from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html.

  37. UNESCO. (2000). The right to education: Towards education for all throughout life. World education report 2000. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

  38. Westrheim, K., & Manger, T. (2014). Iraqi prisoners in Norway: Educational background, participation, preferences and barriers to education. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 1(1), 6–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Terje Manger.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation


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