Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Researching Correctional Education: Why We Must Advance from "Research On," to "Research on and For," and Ultimately to "Research on, for and With"

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Researching Correctional Education: Why We Must Advance from "Research On," to "Research on and For," and Ultimately to "Research on, for and With"

Article excerpt

This article is concerned with issues surrounding research into correctional education. It raises questions regarding the methodologies and ideologies involved in researching correctional education, and examines them against the backdrop of the relationship between the researcher and the researched. Some of the key questions raised are: why research correctional education, who controls the research, who benefits from the research, and who should carry out the research? While such questions can apply equally to any educational research, it is the context of correctional education that makes them more pertinent, more problematic; and ultimately, more interesting than usual.

The first of the questions raised above Is probably the most straightforward to answer. If one values education, If one values correctional education, and If one values educational research, then one must, in turn, value research Into correctional education. It would be as difficult to argue against the necessity to conceptualize and contextuallze correctional education; as It would be to argue against the need to inform and develop best practice in correctional teaching and learning. Thus, in reply to the question, "why research correctional education,' one can respond succinctly that we do so in order to enhance and enrich meaning and/or enrich and enhance practice. In short, research into correctional education can only bolster existing theory, build on best practice, pioneer the philosophy of correctional education, and present the experiences of prison students and teachers to a wider audience. The resulting picture will enable practitioners, providers, policy makers and participants to reach a shared understanding of what It means to engage In formal and Informal learning while In prison, why It Is Important to do so, and how best to facilitate this.

This response could be considered to be rather glib. After all, many people are suspicious of the motives behind any research process. It is not unusual to hear suggestions that the researcher in interested primarily in their own career advancement. If the researcher's motives are deemed 'pure', then the generation of 'pure' knowledge, or knowledge for its own sake, could be considered to be merely an academic indulgence and of little value In the real world. Similarly, educational research can be perceived sometimes to be an aid to policy making rather than a scaffold for developing practice. People can often see research as an invasion of privacy, or a judgement of achievement and worth. Responses like these necessitate the need to be very clear about the value and control of educational research. If we move into the realm of correctional educational, we can see how that need is even more pressing.

Prisoners are observed, examined, analysed, and categorised by those In positions of power on a daily basis. This is carried out not only by the prison authorities (governors, psychologists, probation officers), but also by outside agencies (the judiciary, Government figures, the media), all of whom could claim to have the prisoners' best Interests at heart. Few prisoners believe this. As a consequence most prisoners are inherently suspicious of research. While entering into it apparently wholeheartedly, they often do so merely to alleviate boredom, or earn kudos In the eyes of the authorities, while they secretly denigrate its motives and relevance. How is the correctional education researcher to overcome this? Perhaps the simplest answer is twofold. First, we must ensure that the research Is meaningful to the prisoner. second, we must ensure that the research will in some way lead to an improvement in the life of the prisoner, or future prisoners. The best way to ensure both objectives are attained is to actively Involve the prisoner in the entire process.

But before delving into this, let's return to the questions raised In the introduction; and in particular, who controls research into correctional education? …

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