Findings: barriers to participation in prison education

Given the reported value of prison education, it is important to encourage participation as much as possible. From the statistic outlined at the beginning of this chapter, it is clear that there is an enormous number of prisoners who either do not wish to participate in prison education or experience barriers to their participation. Lowering barriers to education is key to encouraging as many prisoners as possible to use the opportunity to engage with education. By understanding these barriers it will ultimately ensure that any efforts to lower them and to encourage greater participation in education can be well placed.

In the current study, both participants and non-participants were asked about the reasons for non-participation in prison education. This was done for two reasons: first, to ascertain the reasons that the actual cohort of non-participants were not participating in education and, second, to contrast the reasons given by non-participants with the reasons given by participants as to why they felt others were not participating. Many of the inmates who were now participating in education had spent periods of time when they were not participating in education and were therefore in a position to say why they felt others weren’t participating. As a snapshot, motivation, illiteracy, accessibility and drugs appear to be the greatest obstacles to participation in prison education.

Lack of motivation/hopelessness

Over half of the non-participants stated that the reason they were not participating was because they had no interest in education. For many, this lack of interest in education appeared to stem from a sense of hopelessness and an inability to change their situation. They were deeply aware of the stigma they were going to face, especially in relation to employment. Fran’s quote demonstrates this, where he talks about how pointless he feels it is to take any measures to change his life since society will not be forgiving of his prison sentence.

FRAN: I don’t see meself coming up here getting any benefit out of it at all . . . if 1 was to go out and try get a job, try change me life, I’ll get asked where are ya after being, you’re 45 years of age. When I say in jail for me whole life, who’s going to give me a job? ... I know for a fact if they look at me they’re not going to say “well fuck it, give him a chance”.

(Mountjoy, non-participant)

A similar sentiment was offered by Neil, a non-participant who spoke about the role of drugs in the attitude of prisoners. Being an addict will always trump any effort to change other aspects of their life since the priority will always be drugs and drug dealing.

NEIL: I think a lot of them don’t see the point in education when they can go out and sell gear . . . they think what’s the point in getting education, when I get out I’m going to be strung out again.

(Mountjoy, non-participant)

It is interesting that this prisoner relayed the reasons that others were not participating in education, but not his own. He spoke in the third person despite being asked about his own reasons. It is difficult therefore to ascertain whether this is his own perception of his reasons for not accessing education or whether it is what he perceives of others and does not want to give his own personal rationale for not participating.

A small number non-participants stated that they did not see the point in participating, as they are already qualified enough for their trade or job. For example, Larry, a non-participant from Shelton Abbey, stated “I loue me trade and I have no interest in doing anything else”. This is reflective of a situational barrier where a person feels they do not need any other education since they have a trade and an education already. This attitude towards education is representative of the narrow view taken to education whereby it is only a means to an end and serves no greater purpose than ensuring a particular job. It does not recognise that participating in other courses can expand the mind and world view and can be undertaken just for the sake of it. This may be related to social class and a prevailing idea in the family of origin that education is unimportant and once employment/employability' is achieved, education has no further use (Flynn et al., 2011).

Many of the participants, who often referred to the non-participant’s lack of motivation as laziness, stated it as the primary reason for non-participation. The participants spoke about the other prisoners who were too lazy to do something to better themselves.

RAYMOND: They’re lazy; they don’t want to do anything for themselves. They’re happy' enough to sit down for themselves and watch telly or do whatever, they’ve no motivation in themselves.

(Mountjoy, participant)

These narratives are in line with the previous research by' Hawley' (2011), where prison educators predicted that a lack of motivation was the greatest obstacle to prison education. They also echo the findings in Manger et al. (2018), who suggested that prison education was not worth the trouble and “not worth the trouble” was a strong situational factor. Fran’s quote gives a strong indication of this sense of hopelessness, with the prisoners questioning why' they would bother to participate when there was nothing that could change their situation, either at present or after release. Their accounts reflected the belief that they would face insurmountable stigma and prejudice in society, with little hope of getting a job. They did not feel that education could change this. This reflects a strong sense of hopelessness and a lack of belief in their ability' to overcome the various obstacles that they would face in society; The lack of motivation and the sense of hopelessness displayed represent significant situational and dispositional barriers to participation in education. The situational element arises in the sense of the situation they find themselves in — a criminal record, a prison sentence and returning to a society deeply prejudiced towards those people who have previously been to prison. The dispositional barrier arises from their sense of not being able to change their future. The sense of hopelessness is also strongly indicative of the condemnation script outlined by Maruna (2001) that will be discussed in the next chapter.

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