Summary and discussion: barriers to participation in prison education

The barriers to prison education faced by prisoners in the current research tends to fall into all three of the categories outline in the literature. In previous studies, institutional barriers tended to be the most common form of barrier to prison education (Eikeland et al., 2009), with informational barriers contributing significantly to these institutional obstacles. This was not reflected in the current research, with institutional issues being only a moderate contributor to the overall barriers that hindered participation. Security in the school was perhaps the greatest institutional barrier faced, with many prisoners conscious of the safety7 risks within the school, many mentioning the availability of knives in cooking classes as being a source of vulnerability, for example. Addressing this issue is not simple. It is unlikely that resources would allow classes to be offered on a more segregated basis. However, extra measures such as adequate staffing with extra prison officers could make a difference. Other institutional barriers, such as a lack of interesting courses, waiting lists for courses and not being able to access the school all year round were mentioned. These issues are interrelated and within the control of the prison and education service. While they are resource-dependent, there is scope to address these issues in order to promote greater participation in education. This also reinforces the need to ensure that the adult education approach, including a wide variety' of subjects and courses, is offered to attract those who are considering education. Once in education, these more popular modules acted as gateways to more long-term courses of study, and therefore, addressing these issues could be an important part of increasing participation rates.

Situational and dispositional barriers were represented to a significant extent in the findings. However, there is a strong degree of overlap between the two, with many barriers having the potential to be classified as either situation or dispositional. Cross (1981) acknowledges that both are personal in nature, but situational refers to external personal barriers, while personal internal barriers are dispositional. The issue that seems to arise in the context of the current research is that the prima facie difficulty is situational, yet the underlying issues that are actually causing the barrier are dispositional. This can be observed in most of the points that follow. A lack of motivation to participate in prison education was the greatest barrier to participation in the current research. This was classified as a situational factor by Manger et al. (2018) due to the fact that the hopelessness relates to the situation that they find themselves in as a convicted criminal serving a sentence of imprisonment. However, it could also be argued that the sense of hopelessness is an internalised narrative and is therefore a dispositional barrier (Darkenwald and Merriam, 1982). The voices of the men were deeply negative and were characterised by a lack of confidence and a lack self-belief to see a way around the hurdles they will face upon released. Such negativity is a characteristic of the condemnation script highlighted in Chapter 5 that can undermine the desistance process (Martina, 2001). Literacy issues and addiction are two situational hurdles that are well represented in the literature and are also reflected in the current research. Again it is difficult to classify these barriers to prison education as it is often the underlying issues, rather than the prima facie difficulty, that results in the barrier. In the context of low literacy, Manger et al. (2018) classify this as a dispositional barrier. While the issue is external to the person and therefore strictly situational, the low levels of self-esteem (Bailey and Coleman, 1998) in addition to the shame and fear associated with having this issue exposed are deeply internalised, and it is therefore dispositional in nature. A similar argument can be made of drug addiction. The addiction is seen to be situational, but it is the lack of interest in anything other than finding and using drugs that creates the obstacle to education, and again this is representative of a dispositional barrier. An interesting feature of the findings relating to low literacy levels was the way in which this was often hidden, mentioned only by the men who were participating in education. Those who were not participating did not mention it as a reason that they themselves were not participating. This may represent an externalising of the reasons for not participating as opposed to looking at the underlying rationale. This becomes relevant again in the context of desistance in both Chapters 5 and 6.

Finally, it appeared that a significant barrier to education in prison is a past negative experience of education. While none of the non-participants said it was a reason for not participating, their responses to other questions showed that many had been expelled or had bad memories of abuses, for example. When this is coupled with the various characteristics of marginalised learners such as a lack of educational culture growing up, it is not difficult to see why these men attach little importance to education. They do not recognise the many benefits it may hold for them. Addressing this obstacle is difficult since attendance at the school is voluntary and therefore they are unlikely to see how education in prison differs from their previous experience growing up. Encouraging prisoners to try education will be key to overcoming this.

 
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