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

Farley, Helen and Pike, Anne (2018). Research on the Inside: Overcoming Obstacles to Completing a Postgraduate Degree in Prison. In: Padró, Fernando F.; Erwee, Ronel; Harmes, Meredith; Harmes, Marcus and Danaher, Patrick Alan eds. Postgraduate Education in Higher Education. University Development and Administration. Singapore: Springer, pp. 1–24.



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.

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