Educational Practice and Professional Identity among Volunteer Correctional Educators: Becoming a Teacher Behind Bars


This case study examines the experiences of 8 volunteer educators working in a rural county jail in the northeastern United States. More specifically, it explores the challenge of developing a critical educational practice and nascent professional identity in a context otherwise alien to them and on the “borderlands” of contemporary educational practice It is well-documented that while the U.S. is home to only five percent of the world’s population, it houses some 25% of the planet's inmates (Ratigan, 2013). And while the challenges posed by the U.S. corrections system are vast and somewhat unique, the challenge of creating and sustaining rehabilitative programs in a largely punitive “correctional” environment remains a global concern. To that end, this case study, utilizes in-depth interviews, participant journals, and classroom observations to explore the experiences of 8 volunteer teachers working in a rural county jail in southwestern Pennsylvania. County facilities provide a unique site for this work—facilities where relatively short lengths of incarceration and limited opportunities for support create complex educational challenges. These challenges (in the areas of second language instruction, basic literacy, high school equivalency preparation, and career planning) are often addressed by local volunteer educators who, while committed, typically struggle to negotiate their educative roles in a context offering little practical, theoretical, or collegial support. Ratigan, D. (2013, April 12). Ending our incarceration nation. Huffington Post. Retrieved January 24, 2014, from

Author Information
Jeffrey A. Ritchey, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2014
Stream: Adult and lifelong learning

This paper is part of the ECE2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon