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An inquiry into adult male prisoners' experiences of education

Nichols, Helen


Helen Nichols


Gerry Johnstone


Offender learning policy in England and Wales is vocationally focused and thus primarily aims to educate prisoners to increase their employability. Through an analysis of letters written by prisoners and interviews with serving prisoners, ex prisoners and prison staff, this qualitative study investigates prisoners’ experiences of education to explore the broad range of ways that such experiences are interpreted. A recurring interpretation involves personal development and this study shows that a range of personal changes and transformations can be attributed to prison education experiences. This suggests that prisoners’ interpretations of their educational experiences often go beyond employability.

This study also provides a greater understanding of prisoners’ identities by drawing on elements of the research participants’ life histories and locating experiences of education within their narratives. This places the study in an in depth human context and as such, it has emerged that prisoners’ experiences of education can be better understood in the context of aspects of their life stories. This study reveals that prisoners who have not previously had positive educational experiences are often lacking in personal development and emotional maturity and therefore offender learning should be concerned with developing the ‘whole person’ in addition to giving prisoners skills for employment. As such, value can be ascribed to personal developments that are not directly related to employability such as the ability to cope with the experience of imprisonment and improved family relationships. By including such findings, this research also shows how understanding prisoners’ experiences of education contributes to understanding key themes in prison sociology: coping, masculinity, identity and the pains of imprisonment.

This study concerns issues spanning a range of academic disciplines including criminology, sociology and education. As such, it is hoped that this thesis will be of interest to academics in the aforementioned subject areas as well as prison researchers, future prison researchers, prison teachers, prison staff, professionals in criminal justice, and any person with an interest in contemporary imprisonment.


Nichols, H. (2016). An inquiry into adult male prisoners' experiences of education. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Criminology; Social sciences
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Social Sciences, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 2016


Thesis (2.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2016 Nichols, Helen. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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