Prison education, gender, Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programme, women’s prison, England and Wales
This article is a critical reflection of the role of gender in the delivery of a higher education course based on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programme. Related concepts such as hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and intersectionality are discussed within the prison education setting. This reflection primarily draws on critical incidents from the experiences of the first three authors facilitating a higher education course in a women’s prison in England. One major reflection is that learning in a group of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ students, all self-identified women, who vary along the dimensions of age, class, ethnicity, nationality and sexual expression, presented unique dynamics. This included working with both collectiveness and difference, gender-aligned expectations about behaviour, and experiences of control, criminal justice and higher education. Additionally, all four authors' experiences of delivering various higher education courses under different prison-education partnership models in both men and women’s prisons allows for comparison and reflection on the institutional reproduction of gender norms. These reflections point to the conclusion that, despite the strong presence of intersectional divisions, gender can become a uniting force when working with an all-women student group, fostering critical thinking and engagement with challenging structural issues. However further reflection considers that being gender-conscious in the classroom should not be limited to all-women student cohorts, as this is exactly what may enable facilitators to tackle some of the issues produced by hegemonic masculinity in a mixed prison classroom.
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