Context, Creativity and Critical Reflection: Education in Correctional Institutions*

Article excerpt


This article explores the frameworks in which correctional educators operate, both within correctional settings and as part of a wider pedagogical network. It argues that educators must take time for reflection and critical appraisal of our practice. It outlines some ways to circumvent the negative aspects of the regime by meeting the structure of the correctional regime with the creativity and flexibility of our pedagogy. The article argues that educators need to develop an alternative discourse about how we define our progress by creating alternative epistemologies and locating our practice within an adult education pedagogy.


In 1842 Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. He reflected on the penitential system, a revolutionary new form of imprisonment, which he thought, was "rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement." He believed in "its effects to be cruel and wrong" (Dickens, 1842, p.111 ). "In its intention I am well convinced that It is kind, humane and meant for reformation" but despite the well meaning objectives of those who established the prison it "wears the mind into a moribund state, which renders it unfit for the rough contact and busy action of the world" (Dickens, 1842, pp.111 & 121).

Over one hundred and sixty years later, despite numerous policy changes, political debates, the best intentions of prison reformers and the negative attitudes of the 'Prison Works' agenda, there is still no agreement on the theory of imprisonment. The objectives of imprisonment in the modem world are confused; they range from deterrence to retribution and from punishment to rehabilitation. This confusion makes It Imperative that we consider the role of Imprisonment and reflect on the contribution of education within such an institution.

This article will argue that educators must distinguish themselves from current penal policy and avoid the concepts and concerns of those who may have a different agenda and ethos. To achieve this, the current penal orthodoxy must challenged and alternative discourses explored within and without of correctional settings.


Penal policy In some parts of the Europe is following the Anglo-American model with a sharp increase In incarceration. This is in contrast with the more humane penal policy of some European countries, especially the Nordic nations (Rentzmann, 1996; Raundrup & Langelid, 2004). In the USA over the past twenty five years, the numbers Incarcerated have quadrupled reaching two nearly 2.2 million by the end of 2005 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). In Britain the prison population has increased nearly one hundred percent over the last fifteen years. In 1992 there were 40,600 in British prisons; (James, 2001, p.3) by 2006 there were 80,000 (Ramsbotham, 2006, p.1 ). Ireland has also seen the number of Incarcerated increase, from 2,210 In 1995 to 3,150 by 2005 (Irish Prison Education Service, 2006). In 2005, the Irish government announced the closure of one of its oldest prisons, and its replacement with an Irish version of the supermax Institution that sprung up across America in the 1990s. This penal policy would have us believe that increasing numbers of prison spaces would lead to a decrease in the crime rate. But as Alan Elsner reminded readers in his damning critique of the US prison system, this is not necessarily the case. Once prisons are built they will be filled because 'perpetuating, self-generating growth is now largely built into the system.' No politician will speak out against the rush to incarcerate, as 'being labeled as 'soft on crime' is still politically fatal' (Elsner, 2004, p.218).

Changes in penal policy can impact on education within the prison regime. Educators should take the time and space to reflect on philosophy and ideology of their activities because in the rush to 'get things done' (Thompson, 1996) there can be a failure to examine what education is trying to do. …