A Critique of the Prison Reentry Discourse: Futurity, Presence, and Commonsense

This study raises basic questions about reentry programs in the United
States and the discourses of reentry that currently frame policy, research,
and programs. We compare Nordic discourses with those in the United
States and illustrate how the latter curtail a more complex understanding
of the presence of loved ones in the life of an incarcerated father. We
found that U.S. reentry discourses in general are future-oriented and
convey hopelessness about the capacity of loved ones separated by prison
to be positively present—physically and imaginatively—to each other. We
conclude the study with implications for a humanizing curriculum.

Muth et al, Prison Journal, 2016

Click here for full article.

Birth of a Mighty New Journal

[This item first appeared in the IPEA Newsletter, no. 3, November 2014]

On 13 October 2014 – on what the EPEA now call International Day of Education in Prison, and exactly 25 years after the Council of Europe adopted its recommendation on prison education – the Journal of Prison Education and Re-entry (JPER) launched its first issue. The Lead Editor said: “We greet the birth of the journal with expectations of a long and prosperous life”. The JPER is an “independent open access platform” covering research and ideas for good practice in prison education. This first issue is a mighty production and you can access it free at https://jper.uib.no/index.php/jper

The Journal is truly international, with the three main editors hailing from Bergen University in Norway, a university in Virginia, USA, and the Education Unit in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin (Arve Asbjornsen, Bill Muth and Anne Costelloe). There is a letter of welcome from Sweden’s Lena Broo (EPEA Chairperson). Thom Gehring in California reflects on Our Convicts, a book written 150 years ago by Englishwoman Mary Carpenter. And June Edwards, a teacher in Mountjoy, reviews a new English book on creative writing in prisons and such places.

There then follow four Research Papers. The first explores the educational background, participation and preferences of Iraqi prisoners in Norway. A really important research paper by our own Cormac Behan comes next; drawing on in-depth interviews with men in prison, it makes the case for “educational spaces which allow students to voluntarily engage in different types of learning, at their own pace, at a time of their choosing”.

The Canadian, Randall Wright, has a fine article that in many ways complements Cormac’s paper. However, a very sad aspect is that Randall died following a long illness just a few days after publication. So, prison education has lost a stalwart who understood deeply and advocated fiercely what it has to offer. (The IPEA website will shortly have an obituary to Randall). The fourth paper in the Research section comes from Australia, documenting Susan Hopkin’s and Helen Farley’s work with third-level students in Queensland jails “in the light of the increasing digitisation of materials and methods in higher education”.

Each of the research papers draw on the perspectives of students in prisons. These are followed by four ‘Practitioner Papers’, and the voices of people in prison come across even more strongly in this section, which is edited by Anne Costelloe. In this issue of JPER, the

practitioner section is “themed around a set of articles on prison-based college programmes”. Each paper also hails, on this occasion, from ‘correctional facilities’ in the USA. Anne notes: “because of their college background, these tutors ‘get’ education and understand that education provided in our prisons must be equal to that of the wider community… it is merely the context that is different, and appropriate and well-considered education… has the power to transform lives”.


Some Fascinating Recent Publications

[This item first appeared in the IPEA Newsletter, No. 3, November 2014]

Recent months have seen a range of very interesting publications related to prisons, prison education and the justice system at large. Most of these are easily accessible on-line.

Several relate to penal reform in some way. In May, the Irish Penal Reform Trust issues a very insightful report, written by Liza Costello, called Travellers in the Irish Prison System and that is available here. In June, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Dublin launched a significant publication, Re-Imagining Imprisonment in Europe: Effects, Failures and the Future, which, as well as much European-wide content, has quite a number of inputs from Ireland – including two chapters on prison education. More information is available at www.theliffeypress.com, or www.jcfj.ie or from the flyer you can find on the IPEA website. July saw the issuing of the Report of the Independent Review Group on the Department of Justice and Equality (available at here. This report is highly critical of the department’s “closed, secretive and silo-driven culture” and what it saw as its very ineffective management.

Two recent special issues of important journals are well worth exploring, and both are open-access on-line journals. The Irish Journal of Applied Social Science (IJASS) produced a special issue on criminology and penology in May (available on http://arrow.dit.ie/ijass/). Three contributors to this issue have prison education links. Catherine MacNamara (Casey) of Midlands Prison writes about health promotion in a prison context; Anne Costelloe of Mountjoy has an article on teaching for ‘active citizenship’; and former Co-ordinator of Education, Kevin Warner, discusses prison conditions.

The London Review of Education published an extensive special issue on prison education this July and includes a range of international articles, including one by Anne Costelloe and Kevin Warner entitled ‘Prison education across Europe: Policy, Practice, Politics’. It is available at here.

Finally, earlier this year, the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) published a particularly interesting and detailed research-based report on 23 years of the NCAD’s course at Portlaoise Prison. Written by Dr Aislinn O’Donnell of the University of Limerick, it is available at here.