Prison-University partnerships, social citizenship, transformative learning, pedagogic participatory dialogue.


In this paper we argue that education – particularly higher education (HE) - has the potential to offer socially, economically and culturally transformative learning opportunities–cornerstones of social citizenship. Yet, for prisoners, the opportunity to engage in HE as active citizens is often limited. Using a Freirean model of democratic, pedagogic participatory dialogue, we designed a distinctive prison-University partnership in which prison-based learners and undergraduate students studied together. The parallel small-scale ethnographic study, reported here, explored how stereotypes and ‘Othering’ - which compromise social citizenship - could be challenged through dialogue and debate. Evidence from this study revealed a positive change in ‘de-othering’ attitudes of participants was achieved. Furthermore, participants reported growth in their sense of empowerment, agency, and autonomy–cornerstones of social citizenship. Findings from this study contribute further evidence to the developing body of knowledge on the value of partnerships and dialogue in prison education. We conclude that policy makers, and respective institutions, need to work harder to establish prison-University partnerships, thus providing the space for "real talk" to take place.

Author Bio

Dr Anne O’Grady

Dr O'Grady is passionate about adult education and lifelong learning. Her research has a particular focus on adult learners who experience marginalisation from educational opportunities, within a framework of social justice, exploring social inclusion and exclusion dichotomies.

Dr Paul Hamilton

Dr Hamilton’s research is underpinned by an interest in – and commitment to - the intersection between social and criminal justice. His research has included projects on disability hate crime, prison-community transitions, probation mentoring and the impact of educational interventions in reducing knife crime.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Allison, E. (2017, December 20). There’s a mental health crisis in our prisons, yet the justice secretary is silent. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/20/prisoners-mental-health-self-harm-deaths-jails-liverpool

Allport, G. (1979). The nature of prejudice (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Amin, A. (2002). Ethnicity and the multicultural city: Living with diversity. Environment and Planning A(34), 959–80.

BBC (2015, February 1). Prison ‘book ban’ rule relaxed. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31083737

Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders. New York, NY: Free Press.

Behan, C. (2015). Citizens with convictions: Prisoners, political participation and civic engagement. Paper Presented to the Political Studies Association Conference, 2015. Centre for Criminological Research at University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.

BITC (2018). Ban the Box impact survey (unpublished), London, United Kingdom: BITC Reducing Reoffending Through Employment Network.

Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice (R., Nice, Trans.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Braggins, J., & Talbot, J. (2003). Time to learn: Prisoners’ views on prison education. London, United Kingdom: Prison Reform Trust.

Cavadino, M. and Dignan, J. (2006). Penal systems: A comparative approach. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publishing.

Cavadino, M. and Dignan, J. (2010) Penal comparisons: Puzzling relations. In A. Crawford (Ed.), International and comparative criminal justice and urban governance: Convergence and divergence in global, national and local settings (pp. 193–213). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Cavadino, M. Dignan, J. and Mair, G. (2013). The penal system: An introduction. (5th ed.). London: Sage Publishing.

Coates, S. (2016). Unlocking potential - A review of education in prison. London: Ministry of Justice.

Council of Europe (1990). Recommendation No. R (89) 12 adopted by the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 13 October 1989.

Crane, P. (2017). Life beyond crime: What do those at risk of offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn? London, United Kingdom: Lemos & Crane.

Crewe, B. (2011). Depth, weight, tightness: Revisiting the pains of imprisonment. Punishment and Society, 13(5); 509-529.

Davis, W., and Roswell, S. (2013). Turning teaching inside out: A pedagogy of transformation for community-based education. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Department for Education and Skills (2003). 21st century skills: Realising our potential. London: Stationery Office.

Department of Business Innovation and Skills (2011). Making prisons work: Skills for rehabilitation, London, United Kingdom: Department of Business Innovation and Skills.

Department for Innovation Universities and Skills (2006). The Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) in England: A brief guide. London, United Kingdom: Department of Innovation Universities and Skills.

Dewey, J., (1916) Democracy and education. New York, NY: Free Press.

Easton, S. (2008). Constructing citizenship: Making room for prisoners. Rights. Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law, 30(2); 127–146.

Easton, S. (2013). Protecting prisoners: The impact of international human rights law on the treatment of prisoners in the United Kingdom. The Prison Journal, 93(4), 475–492.

Farmer, Lord (2017). The importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime. London: Ministry of Justice.

Farrall S., & Calverley A. (2006). Understanding desistance from crime: Crime and justice series. London, United Kingdom: Open University Press.

Freire, P. (1996), Pedagogy of the oppressed, (2nd ed.). Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin.

Freire, P., (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P., (1996) Pedagogy of the oppressed (20th anniversary edition), New York, NY: Continuum.

Goffman, E. (1968). Asylums. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Gove, M., (2015, 17 July). The Treasure in the heart of man-making prisons work [Speaker’s notes of the speech given at Prisoners Learning Alliance, United Kingdom]. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-treasure-in-the-heart-of-man-making-prisons-work

HM Government (2005). Reducing re-offending through skills and employment. London, United Kingdom: HM Government.

HM Government (2006). Reducing re-offending through skills and employment: Next steps. London, United Kingdom: HM Government.

H.M. Prison Service (2004). The Offender's learning journey: Learning and skills provision for adult offenders in England. Retrieved from http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/146347

Hodgson, A., & Spours, K., (1999) New labour’s educational agenda. London, United Kingdom: Kogan Page.

House of Lords (1981): Ruling UKHL 8.

Howgego, C. (2016, June 1). Prisoners say ‘spice’ use has tripled, fuelling violence, illness and debt. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jun/01/prisoners-reveal-regular-spice-use-tripled-legal-high-violence-illness-debt

Illeris, K., (2004). The three dimensions of learning. Leicester, United Kingdom: National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

Illeris, K., (2014). Transformative learning and identity. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

IPPR (2016). A whole system approach to offender management. London, United Kingdom: IPPR.

Jarvis, P., (2007). Globalisation, lifelong learning and the learning society. London, United Kingdom: RoutledgeFalmer.

Lacey, N. (2008). The prisoner’s dilemma. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Lash, S., & Urry, J. (1994). Economies of signs and space. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publishing.

Lemert, E.M. (1951). Social pathology: Systematic approaches to the study of sociopathic behavior. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Maruna, S., Lebel. T.P., Mitchell, M., & Naples, N. (2006). Pygmalion in the reintegration process: Desistance from crime through the looking glass. Psychology, Crime and Law, 10(3), 271–281.

McNeill, F., Farrall, S., Lightowler, C., and Maruna, S. (2012). How and why people stop offending: discovering desistance. Glasgow, United Kingdom: Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services.

Meisenhelder, T. (1982). Becoming normal: Certification as a stage in exiting from crime. Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 3, 137–153.

Mezirow, J., (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ministry of Justice (2010). Breaking the cycle: Effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders. London, United Kingdom: The Stationery Office.

Ministry of Justice (2018). Education and employment strategy. London, United Kingdom: Ministry of Justice

Murphy, D. S., Fuleihan, B., Richards, S. C., & Jones, R. S. (2011). The electronic “scarlet letter”: criminal backgrounding and a perpetual spoiled identity. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50 (3), 101–118. http://dx.doi.org.10.1080/10509674.2011.560548

O’Brien, R. (2011). A social enterprise approach to prison and rehabilitation. London, United Kingdom: RSA.

O’Hara, M. (2017, July 25). Tackling suicide in prisons requires more cash and care. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/25/suicide-prisons-overcrowded-underfunded-mental-health

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (1996). Lifelong learning for all. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Page, M., (2009). Bringing a lemon to a lifer: Tutoring in prison, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 14(2), 143–156.

Plous, S. (1993). The psychology of judgment and decision making. London, United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill.

Pratt, J. (2008a). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part I - The Nature and Roots of Scandinavian Exceptionalism. British Journal of Criminology, 48, 119–137.

Pratt, J. (2008b). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part II - Does Scandinavian Exceptionalism Have a Future? British Journal of Criminology, 48, 275–292.

Pratt, J. (2007). Penal Populism. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Prison Reform Trust (2014, April). Punishment without purpose. London, United Kingdom: Prison Reform Trust.

Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) (2016). What is prison education for? A theory of change exploring the value of learning in prison. London, United Kingdom: Prisoner Learning Alliance,

Rogers, A. (2003). What is the difference? A new critique of adult learning and teaching. Leicester, United Kingdom: NIACE.

Rogers, A., (2004). Non-Formal education, flexible schooling or participatory education? Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong.

Scott, D. (2013). The politics of prisoner legal rights. The Howard Journal, 52(3), 233–250.

Scullion, R. (2018, May 1). Prisoners’ human rights: a seriously forgotten problem in Britain? [online news]. Retrieved from http://www.passblue.com/2018/05/01/prisoners-human-rights-a-seriously-forgotten-problem-in-britain/

Sieh, E. (1989). Less eligibility: The upper limits of penal policy. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 3, 159–183.

Social Exclusion Unit (2002). Reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners. London, United Kingdom: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Street, B., (1995). Social literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in education, development and ethnography. London, United Kingdom: Longman.

Syal, R. (2017, June 28). Suicide and self-harm in prisons hit worst ever levels. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/29/suicide-and-self-harm-in-prisons-hit-worst-ever-levels

Toynbee, P. (2017, August 31). ‘Tough on crime’ created the prisons crisis. It’s time for justice to be rational. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/31/tough-on-crime-prisons-crisis-prisoner-numbers.

Vaughan, B. (2007). The internal narrative of desistance. British Journal of Criminology, 47(3), 390–404.

Walker, J. (1980). The end of dialogue: Paulo Freire on politics and education. In R. Mackie (Ed.), Literacy and revolution: The pedagogy of Paul Freire (pp. 120-150). London, United Kingdom: Pluto Press Limited.

Wilshaw, M. (2015). The annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector 2014/15. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/483347/Ofsted_annual_report_education_and_skills.pdf