[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”.