Learning Together at the heart of JPER’s recent special issue – ‘Critical reflections on Higher Education in Prison’

By | 2019-09-03T15:53:59+00:00 September 3rd, 2019|0 Comments

The Journal of Prison Education and Reentry (JPER) has recently published a special issue about the challenges and potentials of delivering higher education in prison and re-entry settings. The special issue includes articles from colleagues across the Learning Together Network – a fantastic collection of reflections and critical insight into our work together.

In this blog post, we share the abstracts of papers published by Learning Together colleagues. Please do share details of this excellent collection of papers with colleagues and students. Congratulations to everyone who contributed!






Transformative Learning through University and Prison Partnerships: Reflections from ‘Learning Together’ Pedagogical Practice.

Natalie Gray – Middlesex University, N.Gray@mdx.ac.uk.

Dr Jennifer Ward – Middlesex University, J.R.Ward@mdx.ac.uk.

Jenny Fogarty – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Jenny.Fogarty@lshtm.ac.uk.

This paper critically discusses two London-based Learning Together prison university partnerships – Middlesex University with Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Wandsworth and London South Bank University (LSBU) with HMP Pentonville. The paper documents how students experienced the shared classroom learning approach designed on principles of ‘transformative pedagogy’, and how students interpret their personal development and the knowledge and skills gained as a result. We share the steps taken to bring the Learning Together pedagogical philosophy to life and use evidence from module evaluation findings and critical reflections to demonstrate the transformations that happen. We interpret our findings through the lens of a ‘transformative ripple’ model. In addition to exploring personal transformation, the wider transformations that occur within the public institutions at the centre of these collaborations – the prisons and the universities – are discussed. We argue that for prison and university partnerships to be truly effective, they must embed transformative pedagogic practices at their heart, ensuring the ‘how’ we teach is as important, and deliberately considered, as the ‘what’ we teach.


Learning Together: Localism, Collaboration and Reflexivity in the Development of Prison and University Learning Communities

Dr Amy Ludlow – University of Cambridge, acl46@cam.ac.uk.

Dr Ruth Armstrong – University of Cambridge, ra299@cam.ac.uk.

Professor Lorana Bartels – Australian National University, Lorana.Bartels@anu.edu.au.


This paper engages with challenges of localism, collaboration and reflexivity in thinking about the conceptualisation and development of partnership learning communities between higher education and criminal justice institutions. Grounded in experiences of partnership working in the UK and Australia, our arguments are twofold: first, drawing on missions, policy and practice challenges, that there is a case to be made for partnership-working between higher education and criminal justice institutions; and second that, although there is a need to think about collaborative international structures, there is also a need to reflect critically on how different socio-political and cultural realities (both within and beyond national borders) might shape the particular nature of partnership working. Therefore, while warmly welcoming international collaboration in this field, we urge caution in importing or exporting different “models” of partnership working. We make the case, instead, for open-textured theoretical and empirical reflexivity.


‘People Like Me Don’t Belong in Places Like This.’ Creating and Developing a Community of Learners beyond the Prison Gates

Dr Helena Gosling – Liverpool John Moores University, h.j.gosling@ljmu.ac.uk.

Professor Lawrence Burke – Liverpool John Moores University, L.Burke@ljmu.ac.uk.


It is widely accepted that individuals with criminal convictions experience multiple disadvantage and deprivation, and, as a result, are considered least likely to progress to higher education (Unlock, 2018). The risk-adverse nature of higher education application processes further compound such disadvantage, even though there is no evidence to suggest that screening for criminal convictions increase campus safety (Centre for Community Alternatives, 2010). Drawing upon ethnographic data, the discussion critically reflects upon the development of one situated Learning Together initiative based within a University in the north-west of England. In doing so, the discussion highlights a series of emerging opportunities and competing contradictions that span over three key developmental areas: creation, progress and maintenance. We anticipate that the findings will go some way in opening up a wider debate about the sustainability of initiatives that seek to create dynamic educational partnerships between the higher education sector and criminal justice system more broadly.


‘There’s More That Binds Us Together Than Separates Us’: Exploring the Role of Prison-University Partnerships in Promoting Democratic Dialogue, Transformative Learning Opportunities and Social Citizenship

Dr Anne O’Grady – Nottingham Trent University, anne.ogrady@ntu.ac.uk

Dr Paul Hamilton – Nottingham Trent University, paul.hamilton@ntu.ac.uk.

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.


Learning Desistance Together

Dr Emily Turner, University of Manchester, Emily.c.turner@manchester.ac.uk.

Dr Rose Broad, University of Manchester, Rosemary.broad@manchester.ac.uk.

Dr Caroline Miles, University of Manchester, Caroline.Miles@manchester.ac.uk.

Professor Shadd Maruna, Queens University Belfast, s.maruna@qub.ac.uk.


Drawing on self-report data from a Learning Criminology Inside initiative bringing together BA Criminology students from the University of Manchester with prison-based students from a category C resettlement prison, this article will consider the process of studying desistance “together” in this collaborative setting. It will discuss the complexities of facilitating an external University course in a category C resettlement prison and illustrate how many of the expected and observed behaviours of both sets of students and staff involved reflected themes common to research in reintegration and desistance. The experience of taking part in a prison-based university level course incurs setbacks, as does desistance, and to overcome these, subjective and structural elements similar to those identified in research around desistance from crime are required. Consequently, while discussing desistance, students (and staff) were also practicing elements of it, especially internal factors such as self-determination and persistence and structural factors in terms of support. This paper will also show the possibilities of learning desistance together for both traditional university-based and prison-based students, including, contact with people who can see the new version of ‘self’, a support system, and ideas for new pathways to follow.


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