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Between 1991 and 1999, the number of women incarcerated in Australia almost doubled (Cameron, 2001; Carlen, 1999; Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women, 2003). In spite of this, as several scholars have noted, the circumstances and needs of women prisoners tend to be invisible to both researchers and society (Cook and Davies, 1999; Girshick, 1999; Grimwade, 1999; Torre et al., 2001). This is because they are vastly out-numbered by men in prison populations and because female criminality is often associated in the public mind with gender role transgression and 'double deviance'. As Farrell (1998) notes, female offending, especially by mothers, challenges normative constructions of femininity. She suggests that incarceration attracts scorn rather than support from the community and from the prison system, where women are typically perceived as more difficult inmates than men (Fine et al., 2001). Such perceptions of women inmates mean 'they are rarely allowed to speak or be heard' (Cook and Davies, 1999: 5) on matters directly related to their well-being in prison and post-release prospects. This article argues that women's own voices must be given a central place in an emergent debate in corrections policy: the vocationalism of prisoner education.
There is a serious paucity of research on prisoner education programmes for women inmates. The few studies that do exist call for more research, particularly in the Australian context (Farrell, 1998). International studies have linked effective prisoner education for women with reduced recidivism, an improved prison environment, and enhanced self-esteem and life skills (Fine et al., 2001), but little is known about whether or how Australian women in prison benefit from the education programmes available to them. Indeed, despite the emphasis in government policy on employment, there is a profound lack of material linking education and training with post-release employment for women. The vast majority of Australian female inmates have achieved only low levels of for-real education before entering prison (Cameron, 2001; Danby et al., 2000; Office of the Correctional Services Commissioner, 2000) and while education programmes in prison are promoted for their role in 'rehabilitation', very little is known about inmates" perceptions of education and the impact it has on their lives. As Graycar (in Cameron, 1991: I) notes, "employment and education programs ... are often delivered without consideration of their effectiveness'. Moreover, inmate women's own desires and goals are rarely considered in the design and delivery of education programmes. This is supported by one inmate's claim that in terms of education programmes 'they decide what they think is good for us ... not once did they ever ask us' (Danby et al., 2000: 9). Consultation with prisoners is likely to increase the "success' (Reuss, 1999) of education programmes, but very few studies have focused on the prisoners" own experiences and opinions.
This article addresses this oversight by directly engaging the views of inmates themselves. Drawing on in-depth interviews with women in Victorian prisons--namely, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) and Tarrengower Prison--we examine women inmates' experiences of education. In the first section the education programmes at DPFC and Tarrengower are described. This is followed by a description of the methodology, which, being discourse-based, makes a unique contribution to understanding the motivations for education for inmate women. Subsequently, the findings from these in-depth qualitative interviews are presented and discussed. Demonstrating the disparity in Victoria between stated government aims for inmate women's education and training and the motivations and outcomes articulated by the women themselves, we argue that prisoner education for women ought to be conceptualized in relation to a range of factors and not merely conceived of as a path to employment.
Prisoner education programmes in Victoria
Since 1989, the Department of Education has funded TAFE (technical and further education) institutes to provide education and training in Victorian prisons. Both DPFC and Tarrengower offer Horticulture, Information Technology (IT), Woodwork and a Certificate in General Education (CGE) for adults. In addition, DPFC offers a certificate in written and spoken English (ESL) and Koori Education (for Koori women), and Tarrengower teaches Office Administration, Hospitality and Tractor Safety. As well as teaching the TAFE courses, staff assist with enrolments in distance education courses, including TAFE, VCE (Victorian certificate of education) and university distance education. While TAFE distance education is free for prisoners, all distance education courses have costs, including, for example, books and/or HECS (higher education contribution scheme) that must be met by prisoners. Consequently, distance education is usually only available to those whose families can afford to offer financial support. Moreover; because education staff are employed by TAFE providers and contracted to deliver teaching time in TAFE subjects, the administration and tutorial support required to assist distance education students is not accounted for
Since TAFE took over programme delivery from the Department of Education, prisoner education policy has emphasized ungendered vocational training and employment. This focus is part of a broader shift in philosophy of education in Australia from 'a process of discovery and creation' (Connell, 1998: 90) to accreditation, skills-based training and measurable competencies. The challenges of the post-industrial economy, and especially the radically altered labour market, have generated new paradigms for education framed almost exclusively around its relation to work, and in particular, to skills training for employment in knowledge-based, service and communications industries. As noted in A Bridge to the future: Australia's National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 1998-2003, these industries 'call for new and different skill mixes in their workforce ... it is crucial that vocational education and training equips people with the knowledge and skills necessary to meet these demands' (Australian National Training Authority, 1998: 5). Consequently, credentials and life-long learning of transferable and flexible skills have become the mainstays of current vocational education and training policy, and participation in programmes offering these is considered critical to job prospects. Credentialled skills have become the key to securing employment in an unpredictable labour market for all members of the community. As Dwyer (1995: 95) suggests, the purpose of the new education system is to equip the student with 'a set of key work-related competencies to provide a skilled and flexible workforce for the future'. This vocational drive is apparent in programme delivery for all sectors of the community, but is emphasized most strongly for marginalized populations who are deemed to be 'at risk' of long-term unemployment or unemployability, such as those with prison histories. For example, the 1996 Senate Employment, Education and Training References Committee Inquiry into Education and Training in Correctional Facilities recommended that 'education programs need to be accredited and able to lead to employment or further education' (1996: 14). 'Work-related competencies' are considered to be central to the delivery of appropriate education programmes in the prison context. The National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training [or Adult Prisoners and Offenders in Australia (Australian National Training Authority, 2000), responds to this call, and as Noonan (2004) has written, has been developed specifically to align education in prisons with the vocational education and training system.