The rationale for prison education
There are various rationales put forward to support the provision of prison education. Given the significant impact it can have in personal and societal terms, there have also been countless studies investigating its impact. The criticism that could be made of this collective body of research is that the studies tend to investigate the impact of imprisonment by using recidivism rates as a measure. Recidivism bears a substantial cost to society on various fronts. There are the monetary costs of crime such as property damage, replacing stolen property; insurance claims, revenue loss, prosecuting reoffenders (Hellman. 1980) and the cost of their subsequent reincarceration — currently €73,730 per annum in Ireland (Aebi and Tiago, 2020). Society also bears a cost in terms of the emotional hurt to victims and their family, reduced social trust and the secondary impacts of imprisonment for the person’s own family (Condry and Minson, 2020). In terms of financial return alone, a UK study found that for ever}' €1 invested in prison education, there was a 2.5% return (Matrix Knowledge Group, 2009). By showing that prison education can be beneficial in reducing reoffending, thus avoiding all of the monetary and societal costs given earlier, it creates justification for the continued funding of prison education.
Warner (2018) criticises the growing tendency of managerialism in the criminal justice and education spheres to focus more on what is measurable, not what is important. Such an approach is increasingly taken to prison education by using recidivism as a measure of its value. This reduces the benefit of prison education to a single outcome (Duguid et al., 1996) and ignores the various other benefits that might accrue to the person. It is also overly causal, presuming that the sole factor responsible for reduced reoffending is the educational intervention (Steurer et al., 2001). Furthermore, it conceptualises education as to a tool to be used in the achievement of penal objectives a way to achieve rehabilitation. Education may be a tool of change, but it is also a tool of human dignity (Munoz, 2009). It aims, among other things, to promote the development of the person, to normalise the prison experience and to minimise the harmful impact of prison upon the person (Council of Europe, 1990). Therefore, this approach of gauging its impact based on a lone indicator has been criticised (Maltz, 2001; Steurer et al., 2001). These competing perspectives have led to extensive discussion in the prison education policy and literature in terms of the true rationale for the provision of prison education.
Following is an overview of the most common rationale put forward for the provision of education, exploring rehabilitation and reduced recidivism rates in the first instance and going on to examine the broader benefits of education for both the person and society. It is not meant as an exhaustive list of all existing studies, as this would be impossible in the confines of this current work. However, it is hoped that what is presented is a comprehensive overview of the main works that support the theoretical framework that underpins this book.