‘I didn’t realise how empty I had been ‘til learning filled me up’: A cross-contextual exploration of the relationship between wellbeing and prison education

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The positive impact of education on health, and increasingly wellbeing, has been well-documented. The wider wellbeing benefits of education would conceivably be of particular importance to prisoners, a group that is comprised of many individuals who have had previous negative or inadequate experiences of education and poor educational attainment upon entering the prison system. Given that the rhetoric surrounding prison education revolves strongly around outcomes and the capacity for engagement with education in prison to lead to employment post-release, thereby reducing rates of reoffending, this research seeks to contribute to an understanding of the benefits of prison education that ostensibly has not received due attention in the literature.

This thesis is the culmination of three qualitatively-driven studies exploring the relationship between prison education and wellbeing in prisons within England and Wales. The theoretical perspectives underscoring the research are eclectic in nature, drawing upon scholarship on wellbeing, education, and capital in order to situate the findings and discussion. The common underpinning that unites the three studies, or ‘golden thread,’ pertains to the capacity for the impact of prison education to be conceptualised using a framework of wellbeing.

Study One explores the accounts of prison learners who have applied for educational funding through the Prisoners’ Education Trust in order to highlight the self-reported prospective benefits of engaging in further and higher-level study in prison.

Study Two investigates the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the learning experiences of currently incarcerated prison learners by analysing letters detailing their experiences of learning during lockdown.

Study Three examines the perspectives of both prison educators and former prison learners with respect to the potential wellbeing impacts, both positive and negative, of prison education.

The thesis makes valuable contributions to the intersection of the fields of prison education and wellbeing. The research concludes by demonstrating the relationship between prison education and wellbeing is dynamic and complex, impacting those who engage with education in prison in diverse ways. A noteworthy element within this relationship is the wellbeing implications for prison learners when a valuable educational experience is removed. The research demonstrates that various aspects of the penal education experience can interact in dynamic ways with an individual’s prior life and educational experiences to impact the relationship between education and wellbeing for prison learners.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Meek, Rosie, Supervisor
  • Hardwick, Nicholas, Supervisor
Award date1 Sept 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Prison education
  • Wellbeing
  • Prisoners
  • Mental health in prisons
  • Benefits of learning
  • Capital

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