Education is usually about making people smarter, but are we working smart when it comes to prison education? This paper explores the purpose and impact of prison education (basic skills to university learning), presenting findings from a PhD research project exploring the relationship between prison education and desistance from crime. General capabilities required for successful learners are mapped against those identified as common to successful desisters. Data from a unique educational facility of a medium security prison in New South Wales is presented that suggests the desistance process is both catalysed and supported by engagement in education - we can learn to desist. Inmate learners’ stories are told which indicate significant empathy is deepened, future aspirations change and world perspective widened as a result of engagement in education, even at the most basic skills level. Consideration is given to types and impact of curricula, how we might develop ‘pedagogies of desistance’ and how this might inform custodial practice and culture. This paper considers what how education may ‘work’ to reduce reoffending and how it might work best in the custodial setting. It suggests how prisons could ‘work smarter’ to support the process of desistance from crime from the very beginning of a custodial sentence, using the power and potential of high quality prison education.

Fiona McGregor
University of Technology Sydney
PhD Candidate

Biography: Originally a secondary English teacher, Fiona has over 18 years experience as a prison educator, manager, government adviser and consultant inspector specialising in juvenile and young adult male offender education in UK and Australian prisons. Fiona is interested in how prison education ‘works’ to reduce reoffending. Within her almost-completed UTS doctoral studies, she is currently researching adult basic skills learning in prison and the possible relationship with desistance from crime. Fiona is passionate about combining practice and research to develop ‘pedagogies of desistance’ that support the teaching and learning of transformative adult basic skills within prisons so staff and inmates can flourish, and developing learning spaces and programs within the custodial setting to best support the learning and desistance processes.

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