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College Programs in Women's Prisons: Faculty Perceptions of Teaching Higher Education Behind Bars Open Access

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Abstract of DissertationCollege Programs in Women’s Prisons: Faculty Perceptions of Teaching Higher Education Behind Bars In 2014, the RAND Safety and Justice Program published a comprehensive analysis that “found, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not and that correctional education may increase post-release employment” Davis et al., 2014, p. xvi). The RAND report concluded that “the debate should no longer be about whether correctional education is effective or cost-effective; rather, the debate should focus on where the gaps in our knowledge are and opportunities to move the field forward (italics original)” (Davis et al., 2014). Informed by Thomson, Turner, & Nietfeld’s Theory of Motivations and Beliefs about Teaching (2012); Beijaard, Verloop & Vermunt’s Theory of Professional Identity (2000); and Pratt and Associates’ General Model of Teaching (1998), Schlossberg’s Theory of Mattering and Marginality (1989) provided the theoretical frame to examine faculty members’ understanding of their professional and social roles within a women’s prison. This study used a non-experimental, basic interpretative, qualitative research design, with thematic analysis. Interviews with 12 faculty members from two states who taught in college in prison programs at women’s state prisons resulted in nine themes that answered the overarching research question: How do higher education faculty members understand their professional and social roles within a women’s prison? The research provided four findings: (1) the commitment to maintain rigorous academic standards in the prison college classroom strengthened faculty members’ resolve against inconsistent procedures and lack of resources; (2) by modeling prosocial behaviors, faculty members’ personal and professional identities were positively impacted by the respect they received in the prison classroom; (3) faculty members believe that higher education is crucial to successful functioning in society and, therefore, a right deserved by incarcerated women; and (4) for established career educators, persistence in teaching in a women’s college-in-prison program was a satisfying option in their search for meaning in their professional lives. This research serves to move the discussion of college-in-prison programs beyond just recidivism statistics, and provides recommendations to highlight the significance of college-in-prison programming in the higher education landscape.

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