Prison-Based Transformative Learning and Its Role in Life After Release

Pike, Anne (2015). Prison-Based Transformative Learning and Its Role in Life After Release. PhD thesis The Open University.



Higher-level education in prison is offered mostly through distance learning. Previous research found many barriers to studying this Prison-based Higher-level Distance learning (PHDL) but also suggested that prisoners who persevered with their study appeared changed in some way and perceived themselves to have more chance of a better future. There is, however, very little understanding of how such change occurs or whether it actually makes a difference to them after prison. This thesis presents research which investigated in what ways PHDL is transformative and what role it plays in learners’ lives after release. Qualitative, ethnographic and longitudinal in approach, the research was split into three phases. The pilot phase involved interviewing 10 exprisoners who had completed PHDL. The in-prison phase involved ethnographic fieldwork in 10 prisons in England and Wales with 51 serving prisoners who were due for release and had either completed PHDL or had considered but not engaged with PHDL, this second group providing comparative analysis. The post-release phase traced 28 of those prisoners after release, and engaged with many for up to one year, as they attempted to integrate back into society. An additional perspective was gained from 63 others such as staff, educators and family. A thematic analysis of the complex data identified physical, infrastructural and organisational factors affecting the participants which were mostly barriers to learning and integration. These were mediated by social support factors of family, individual staff, and the perception of being part of a learning community. The psychological outcomes from the interaction of these factors included a positive student identity, resilience and hope which were carried with participants upon release. The immediate post-release environment was chaotic and most participants failed to continue studying, temporarily losing their positive student identity. There was very little social support at this time and it was the participants’ own resilience and hope which helped them to survive until life began to improve. Ultimately it was found that those who were able to capitalise on their learning were better placed to integrate into society.

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