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Curtin University
Ethics Equity and Social Justice

Inclusive Access to Higher Education in the Justice System

Education is a right to all people and can be a crucial tool for building self-esteem and reducing the likelihood of those in the justice system reoffending.

Man studying in a libraryDespite this, a number of barriers currently limit effective learning engagement and retention for this group.

Inclusive Access to Higher Education in the Justice System is a collaborative research project between Curtin and a range of prisons and reintegration facilities in WA. The project will research, analyse and evaluate ways that prison residents can access and participate in higher education.

The project aims to:

  • identify effective ways to educate, engage and retain students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds who are in the justice system
  • identify the barriers and opportunities that prison residents have in accessing higher education programs
  • support prisoners who access higher education opportunities.

The barriers this project aims to address

The following have been identified as barriers to higher education in the justice system:

Reliance on hardcopy learning materials

Permission to use electronic materials must be granted by prison education officers, which can result in a reliance on hardcopy learning materials. This limits the student’s ability to fully participate in a university course, particularly if it has interactive elements, such as online tutorials, which courses increasingly do have.

Technological limitations

Even when access is granted, the nature of the prison environment means access to the right technology can be limited, meaning residents cannot learn to use the technology that they will likely need to use after their release.

Technological limitations include access to facilities, library resources, textbooks, web-based content, learning management systems and platforms that enable collaboration.

Difficulties involved with preparing prison-appropriate materials

It is a time-consuming task for both universities and education officers to prepare materials in appropriate formats specifically for prisoners.

Below average level of education

People from low socioeconomic status backgrounds are overrepresented in correctional populations, and many have a below average level of education.

An inconsistent strategy

Curtin University has supported the education of prison residents through the School of Design and Art’s JETA Program, however to date there has been no efficient and consistent strategy across the University which facilitates inclusive access to all courses.

Why is this important to Curtin?

We’re committed to enhancing opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to participate and succeed in higher education. Through the Student Equity Strategy 2014-17 [.pdf], we aim to facilitate a higher education environment that is inclusive and supportive of students from all backgrounds, including those in the justice system.

Our partners

  • Karnet Prison Farm
  • Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women
  • Wandoo Reintegration Facility
  • Acacia Prison
  • Casuarina Prison
  • Bandyup Women’s Prison
  • Wooroloo Prison Farm
  • The WA Department of Corrective Services.

The project plan

The overarching aim of the Inclusive Access to Higher Education in the Justice System project is to facilitate learning that will engage and retain students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds who are in the justice system.

Build on what we have

The project will build upon the School of Design and Art’s JETA program and the Curtin AHEAD program, and, where possible, extend beyond the arts to allow prisoners to access other Curtin programs.

JETA Program

Curtin AHEAD

Consult the experts

Research on incarceration undertaken by the Centre for Aboriginal Studies (exploring the impact on marginalised groups, individuals, families and communities) will also be incorporated into the project.

Best practice investigation and implementation

Best practice for higher education in prison environments will be investigated and introduced at both Curtin and partner prisons and reintegration centres.

This will include:

  • Reviewing how well Curtin services (such as admissions, student administration, teaching and learning, and support services) meet the needs of incarcerated students.
  • Reviewing the higher education strategy of each partner prison and reintegration centre, with a particular focus on how residents engage in higher education, both in the justice system and after their release.
  • Researching suitable technology that can be incorporated into prisons to enhance student engagement and build important skills in using technology, which is critical to future studies and employment.
  • Developing a campus mentoring scheme in conjunction with existing Curtin University services to better help students prepare for community living and access to a fully integrated university experience.

There will also be opportunities to reassess these elements and to make changes, which will help make higher education in prison as inclusive and accessible as possible.


Ethics, Equity and Social Justice (EESJ)
Phone: +61 8 9266 7914 or +61 8 9266 2772

Dr Brian Steels

Dr Dot Goulding