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‘Education as the practice of freedom?’ – prison education and the pandemic

O'Brien, Kate; King, Hannah; Phillips, Josie; Dalton, Phoenix and Kath (members of the Durham University Inside-Out Collective)

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Phoenix and Kath (members of the Durham University Inside-Out Collective) Dalton


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a corner of society where the spotlight has not fallen. As in ‘ordinary’ times, this is the black hole of prisons, whose population consists of predominantly poor, minoritised and often younger adults. Globally, during the pandemic, people detained in prison have been locked away in solitary, or near solitary, confinement for up to 23-hours a day. In the UK, many have had to choose between fresh air, exercise or a phone call to loved ones each day. There has been little mention of education. This has meant that those in custody endured over a year locked in a cell without access to basic education let alone Higher Education (HE). In examining the state’s responsibility to provide ‘education for all’, we demonstrate, through our collective participation in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programme, the value and importance of prison education beyond the current focus on risk, responsibility and recidivism. We evidence the transformative and humanising potential of HE in prison through three key elements–the space and learning environment; the role of voice, recognition and agency; and the power of disruptive and transgressive teaching practice. In this article we shine a light on education in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. The various impacts of COVID-19 on prison learners exposes new and deeper forms of structural disadvantage that shape the educational experiences and journeys of people in custody. We consider how we can expedite ‘education as the practice of freedom’ (hooks, 1994) for those who are incarcerated during and beyond the pandemic. We conclude by reimagining HE in UK prisons, reflecting upon alternative, more positive, approaches to prison education.


O'Brien, K., King, H., Phillips, J., & Dalton, P. A. K. (. O. T. D. U. I. C. (2022). ‘Education as the practice of freedom?’ – prison education and the pandemic. Educational Review, 74(3), 685-703.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 29, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 14, 2021
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Oct 27, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jan 12, 2022
Journal Educational Review
Print ISSN 0013-1911
Electronic ISSN 1465-3397
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 74
Issue 3
Pages 685-703


Published Journal Article (727 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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