Routine and alternatives to education

An issue that does not appear to be reflected in the previous literature on the barriers to prison education and in many ways is related to the point of problems in physically accessing education is the influence of routine on participation in prison education. Some prisoners mentioned that they did not participate in prison education because when they tried to access the school and education they could not do so, either because the module they wanted was subject to a waiting list or because they tried to access the school during a holiday period. By the time they were allocated a place or the school resumed after holidays, they had established an alternative routine and were reluctant to deviate from it. This was the experience ofjames who is quoted here. This can also be a reason for prisoners dropping out of education as when they leave the school for a period, they lose motivation.

JAMES: I was doing grand up here I was. . . over the holidays then I kind of lost interest ... I just couldn’t be bothered coming back up. Just lost motivation basically.

(Mountjoy, non-participant)

Several prisoners mentioned they did not participate in education as they already had a set routine and/or were already engaging in alternatives such as the gym. Arriving in prison is daunting for most people; while many will have comrades in prison, others will be eager to find friends or a group where they can fit in and feel like they belong during their sentence. Along with this conies a routine that helps the days go by quicker, and once they establish this routine they are reluctant to break it. This sense of routine is outlined by Kevin.

KEVIN: I’d rather do the gym and workout all the time. Every morning I do the gym. Then I’ll do me laps in the yard and then make me phone call at half five. Score a bit of hash and back into the cell for the night. Chill back then, have a yap on the phone.

(Mountjoy, non-participant)

Routine is often dictated by the group with which they find themselves associating. This routine usually involves activities such as the school, gym or workshops or simply spending their out-of-cell time in the yard. Most of the prisoners who were participating in education had found their way to the school early in their sentence. Several of those not participating in education stated that they either arrived during the summer break or had put their name on a waiting list. When they were eventually called for the school, they had already established themselves with a group of friends and a routine and were not prepared to change this. This was the scenario faced by Damien, who arrived in prison during the summer and wanted to do a cookery class. In addition to delays due to holiday, Damien also had to go on a waiting list for this popular class. He then slipped into an easy routine and did not take up his place when it became available. This is disappointing, as subjects such as cookery can be gateway courses to other forms of education.

DAMIEN: When I was waiting to be called, I went to the gym and a lot of lads get into the workshops so they’ve got their routine. So when you come into prison you’re looking for your bearings, you want to find something to do, you’re trying to get into a routine. As soon as you find a routine, you don't want to change so I’m happy with what I’m doing at the moment so I think that’s what happens.

(Mountjoy, non-participant)

However, one of the participants mentioned that they began using the gym shortly after arriving in prison and the interest in exercise led to them to enquire about the fitness instructors course in the school. Therefore, this routine, where it involves other positive activities, can be a gateway activity that might ultimately lead to the school.

On the face of it, this appears to be an issue with impeded access to the school through closures or waiting lists and is therefore institutional in nature. However, when the findings are examined further, it appears that this reluctance towards education is also quite dispositional in nature. When people were not able to access education immediately, they subsequently developed an alternative routine that they were reluctant to give up. It was apparent in the findings that routine is extremely important in prison. When people arrive in prison, they like to get into a routine as quickly as possible. It appears that if school does not form part of this original routine, they are reluctant to break their routine later in order to participate in education. Furthermore, a small number of prisoners who began participating in education but subsequently dropped out found it hard to say why they left prison education, putting it down to simply not being able to settle in the school. Perhaps this indicates again the power of habit, with those who have an established prison-orientated routine finding it difficult to switch to a school-orientated routine, thus representing a barrier to participation. If they do go to the school, they often find it difficult to settle and return to their old routine again. It appears that the barrier to participation here is dispositional and institutional in nature.

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