Prisons and pedagogy: Rehumanising education and power with learners at the edge

Dr Armon Tamatea

One of the roles of prisons is to prepare incarcerated individuals for resettlement into citizenship. Similarly, one of the roles of education is to prepare learners for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. In this sense, both institutions serve developmental, moral and political functions. However, prisons and prisoners present unique challenges for educators - irrespective of whether they work in these spaces or not - because these contexts can offer extreme professional and practice situations that may provoke reflections of participant's experiences in contexts where power, pedagogy, and transformative learning are central concerns. For instance:

  • Prisoners can present with complex needs and have a lower average level of base skills in literacy and numeracy, may have aversive experiences in school settings, experience higher rates of mental health problems, as well as the emotional process of working through the sentence itself;
  • Prisons can present specific hazards for many individuals such as disconnection from family/whanau and community, involuntary detainment and close proximity to strangers (some of whom may pose threats of violence), uneven employment opportunities, and competing demands for prisoners in these sites that interfere with continuity of learning (e.g., transfers); and,
  • Prison-based education can present with constrained aims such as a reliance on technical training in a market-driven and credentialized context, rather than one that promotes leadership and public service.

Taken together, these combined challenges may serve to not only frame a learner's identity as an individual with multiple needs and deficits, but also reinforce a notion of alienation from the community and citizenship.

In this presentation, Armon will use the interface between prisons, prisoners, and education delivery as departure points to discuss issues of pedagogy and human agency, social responsibility and alienation, and engage deeper prospects of democratic and humanised education with learners who are in overt and asymmetric power relationships. Participants will be invited to reflect on their own observations of power and share ideas.