Research on the Inside: Overcoming Obstacles to Completing a Postgraduate Degree in Prison

  • Helen Farley
  • Anne Pike
Reference work entry
Part of the University Development and Administration book series (UDAA)


Postgraduate students who are attempting to complete their study while being incarcerated face a unique set of administrative, social, and academic challenges which can significantly impact their progress. University educators are very often unaware of the particular circumstances of these incarcerated postgraduate students and fail to provide adequate support. As prisons are designed with the purpose of maintaining public security, they generally are inadequate learning environments and are staffed by officers with little familiarity with university processes and academic demands.

This chapter describes the very specific research and learning environment of a prison and details how the prison culture can support or inhibit higher-level learning. It highlights the significant benefits of higher education for incarcerated students, prisons, universities, and society as a whole. However, the chapter also explores the many difficulties of access and support for any form of higher education in the prison environment; and specifically, the difficulties for postgraduate students undertaking research and for their supervisors.

The chapter concludes with a series of recommendations for both universities and prisons, suggesting that many of the challenges to postgraduate teaching and learning in prison can be at least partially addressed through better communication, a whole-of-prison approach to learning and the development of a learning culture. Prison conditions vary hugely across jurisdictions, and so it is not possible to provide a model for study which works for all incarcerated students but this chapter suggests changes which could improve conditions for many.


Prisoner education Prison education Higher education Postgraduate education Digital equity Cultural capital 


  1. Abbott-Chapman, Joan. 1994. The challenge of retention: Raising and meeting students’ educational expectations. Youth Studies Australia 13 (2): 17–20.Google Scholar
  2. Andersen, Synøve Nygaard, and Torbjørn Skardhamar. 2015. Pick a number: Mapping recidivism measures and their consequences. Crime & Delinquency 1–23.Google Scholar
  3. Andrew, Jane. 2007. Prisons, the profit motive and other challenges to accountability. Critical Perspectives on Accounting 18 (8): 877–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armstrong, Ruth, and Amy Ludlow. 2016. Educational partnerships between universities and prisons: How learning together can be individually, socially and institutionally transformative. Prison Service Journal 225: 9–17.Google Scholar
  5. Arnold, Josie. 2012. Teaching postgraduate students in high security prison 2002–2011. International Journal of Asian Social Science 2 (6): 942–949.Google Scholar
  6. Australian Government. 2018. Study Assist: Information for students about government assistance for financing tertiary study. Accessed 14 Jan 2018.
  7. Australian Government Productivity Commission. 2017. Report on Government Services, Chapter 8: Corrective services. Accessed 29 Nov 2017.
  8. Baker, Janet. 2003. Opening one door wider – Expanding opportunities for prisoner higher education through Open Learning Australia (OLA). Paper presented at the IFECSA conference: Unlocking doors – Rebuilding lives through education, Surfers Paradise.Google Scholar
  9. Behan, Cormac. 2014. Learning to escape: Prison education, rehabilitation and the potential for transformation. Journal of Prison Education and Re-entry 1 (1): 20–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crewe, B., Warr, J., Bennett, P. and Smith, A. 2014. The emotional geography of prison life. Theoretical Criminology, 18(1): 56–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1985. The forms of capital. In Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education, ed. John Richardson, 241–258. New York: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  12. Brazzell, Diana, Anna Crayton, Debbie A. Mukamal, Amy L. Solomon, and Nicole Lindahl. 2009. From the classroom to the community: Exploring the role of education during incarceration and reentry. New York: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center/City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, Kevin, Jon Spencer, and Jo Deakin. 2007. The reintegration of sex offenders: Barriers and opportunities for employment. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice 46 (1): 32–42. Scholar
  14. Castells, Manuel. 1996. The rise of the network society. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Castells, Manuel. 2004. Informationalism, networks and the network society: A theoretical blueprint. In The network society: A cross-cultural perspective, ed. Manuel Castells, 3–45. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark, Rod. 2016. How education transforms: Evidence from the experience of Prisoners’ Education Trust on how education supports prisoner journeys. Prison Service Journal 225: 3–8.Google Scholar
  17. Coates, Dame Sally. 2016. Unlocking potential: A review of education in prison. London: Ministry of Justice.Google Scholar
  18. Costelloe, Anne. 2014. Learning for liberation, teaching for transformation: Can education in prison prepare prisoners for active citizenship? Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies 14 (1): 30–36.Google Scholar
  19. Criminal Justice Alliance. 2012. Crowded out? The impact of prison overcrowding on rehabilitation. London: CJA.Google Scholar
  20. Czerniawski, Gerry. 2015. A race to the bottom – Prison education and the English and Welsh policy context. Journal of Education Policy 1–17.Google Scholar
  21. Darke, Sacha, and Andreas Aresti. 2016. Connecting prisons and universities through higher education. Prison Service Journal 225: 26–32.Google Scholar
  22. Dempsey, Jack. 2013. Sustaining the unsustainable: Police and Community Safety Review, final report. Brisbane: Queensland Government Police and Community Safety Review.Google Scholar
  23. Department for Works and Pensions. 2012. Social justice: Transforming lives. London: HM Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  24. Duwe, Grant, and Valerie Clark. 2014. The effects of prison-based education on recidivism and employment. The Prison Journal 94 (4): 454–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Farley, Helen. 2017. Rehabilitation through education: Implementing an innovative technology solution across multiple jurisdictions in Australia. Paper presented at the International Corrections and Prisons Association conference: Innovation in rehabilitation, building better futures, London.Google Scholar
  26. Farley, Helen, and Joanne Doyle. 2014. Using digital technologies to implement distance education for incarcerated students: A case study from an Australian regional university. Open Praxis 6 (4): 357–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Farley, Helen, and Anne Pike. 2016. Engaging prisoners in education: Reducing risk and recidivism. Advancing Corrections: Journal of the International Corrections and Prisons Association 1: 65–73.Google Scholar
  28. Farley, Helen, and Julie Willems. 2017. Digital equity: Diversity, inclusion and access for incarcerated students in a digital age. Paper presented at the Me, Us, IT: ASCILITE2017, Toowoomba.Google Scholar
  29. Farrall, Stephen, Anthony Bottoms, and Joanna Shapland. 2010. Social structures and desistance from crime. European Journal of Criminology 7 (6): 546–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  31. Harmes, Marcus, Susan Hopkins and Helen Farley. in press. Beyond incarcerated identities: Identity, bias and barriers to higher education in Australian prisons. International Journal of Bias, Identity and Diversities in Education.Google Scholar
  32. Hopkins, Susan. 2015. Ghosts in the machine: Incarcerated students and the Digital University. Australian Universities Review 57 (2): 46–53.Google Scholar
  33. Hopkins, Susan, and Helen Farley. 2015. e-learning incarcerated: Prison education and digital inclusion. The International Journal of Humanities Education 13 (2): 37–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. House of Commons Library. 2017. UK prison population statistics, briefing paper number SN/SG/04334. London.Google Scholar
  35. Karimshah, Ameera, Marianne Wyder, Paul Henman, Dwight Tay, Elizabeth Capelin, and Patricia Short. 2013. Overcoming adversity among low SES students: A study of strategies for retention. Australian Universities Review 55 (2): 5–14.Google Scholar
  36. Lee, Christopher, Helen Farley, Jacinta Cox, and Stephen Seymour. 2017. Tackling Indigenous incarceration through promoting engagement with higher education. In Indigenous pathways and transitions into Higher Education: From policy to practice, ed. Jack Frawley, 169–188. Springer Open. SingaporeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mackay, Anita. 2015. Overcrowding in Australian prisons: The human rights implications. Precedent 128 (May/June): 37–41.Google Scholar
  38. McCarty, Heather Jane. 2006. Educating felons: Reflections on higher education in prison. Radical History Review 2006 (96): 87–94. Scholar
  39. McCollom, Sylvia G. 1994. Prison College Programs. The Prison Journal 74 (1): 51–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ministry of Justice. 2013. Justice data lab re-offending analysis. London: Ministry of Justice.Google Scholar
  41. Nally, John M., Susan Lockwood, Taiping Ho, and Katie Knutson. 2014. Post-release recidivism and employment among different types of released offenders: A 5-year follow-up study in the United States. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences 9 (1): 16–34.Google Scholar
  42. Newbold, Greg, Jeffrey Ian Ross, Richard S. Jones, Stephen C. Richards, and Michael Lenza. 2014. Prison research from the inside: The role of convict autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry 20 (4): 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Open University. 2017. OpenLearn website. Accessed 14 Jan 2018.
  44. Pike, Anne. 2014. Prison-based transformative learning and its role in life after release. Unpublished PhD thesis, The Open University, Milton Keynes.Google Scholar
  45. Pike, Anne, and Anne Adams. 2012. Digital exclusion or learning exclusion: An ethnographic study of adult male distance learners in English prisons. Research in Learning Technology 20: 363–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pike, Anne, and Susan Hopkins. in press. ‘Education is Transformational:’ Positive identity through prison–based higher education in England and Wales. International Journal of Bias, Identity and Diversities in Education.Google Scholar
  47. Pike, Anne, and Ruth McFarlane. 2017. Experiences of post-secondary learning after prison: Reintegrating into society. In Life beyond crime: What do those at risk of offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn? ed. Paul Crane, 258–262. London: Lemos & Crane.Google Scholar
  48. Pompoco, Amanda, John Wooldredge, Melissa Lugo, Carrie Sullivan, and Edward J. Latessa. 2017. Reducing inmate misconduct and prison returns with facility education programs. Criminology & Public Policy 16 (2): 515–547. Scholar
  49. Prison-based postgraduate students. 2017. Private communication with author.Google Scholar
  50. Prisoners’ Education Trust. 2012. Brain cells 2: Listening to prisoner learners. Mitcham: Prisoners’ Education Trust.Google Scholar
  51. Prisoners’ Education Trust. 2017. Prison University Partnerships in Learning (PUPiL). Mitcham: Prisoners’ Education Trust.Google Scholar
  52. Roberts, Julian V., and Keir Irwin-Rogers. 2015. Sentencing practices and trends, 1999–2013. In Exploring sentencing practice in England and Wales, ed. Julian V. Roberts, 35–60. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.Google Scholar
  53. Ross, Jackie. 2009. Education from the inside, out: The multiple benefits of college programs in prison. New York: Correctional Association of New York.Google Scholar
  54. Selwyn, Neil. 2010. Degrees of digital division: Reconsidering digital inequalities and contemporary higher education. RUSC, Universities and Knowledge Society Journal 7: 33–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Selwyn, Neil, and Stephen Gorard. 2003. Reality bytes: Examining the rhetoric of widening educational participation via ICT. British Journal of Educational Technology 34 (2): 169–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sims, Julian., Vidgen, Richard., and Powell, Philip. 2008. E-Learning and the Digital Divide: Perpetuating Cultural and Socio-Economic Elitism in Higher Education. Communications of the Association for Information Systems Vol. 22, Article 23. Available at:
  57. Torre, Maria Elena, and Michelle Fine. 2005. Bar none: Extending affirmative action to higher education in prison. Journal of Social Issues 61 (3): 569–594. Scholar
  58. United Nations. 2009. Promotion and protection of human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of education, Human Rights Council, 11th session, agenda item 3. UN General Assembly. Geneva.Google Scholar
  59. Visher, Christy A., Sara A. Debus-Sherrill, and Jennifer Yahner. 2011. Employment after prison: A longitudinal study of former prisoners. Justice Quarterly 28 (5): 698–718. Scholar
  60. Warner, Kevin. 1998. The “prisoners are people” perspective – And the problems of promoting learning where this outlook is rejected. Journal of Correctional Education 49 (3): 118–132.Google Scholar
  61. Warr, Jason. 2016. Transformative dialogues: (Re)privileging the informal in prison education. Prison Service Journal 225: 18–25.Google Scholar
  62. Working Links. 2010. Prejudged: Tagged for life; a research report into employer attitudes towards ex-offenders. Accessed 17 Oct 2017.
  63. Wynne, Sean. 2001. Education and security – When the twain do meet. Journal of Correctional Education 52 (1): 39–42.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Digital Life LabUniversity of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of Educational TechnologyThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

Personalised recommendations