9.4 Correctional centres

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Pathways to higher education may fall outside the traditional pathways from school, VET and the workforce. This section focuses on the provision of courses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are currently in the justice system. There are challenges in delivering education to this pool of students, including students’ access to educational facilities and teachers, but there are significant benefits to be gained, both for the students themselves and for society. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overrepresented in the justice system.

9.4.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • senior staff within correctional centres support inmates’ study
  • modes of delivery are responsive to the barriers affecting students, including life circumstances and access to technology.

9.4.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • providing ongoing support despite limited contact hours
  • maintaining continuity, given the mobility of the incarcerated, who can be moved or released without notification to the university.

9.4.3 Examples

CQUniversity – correctional centres

Nulloo Yumbah is CQUniversity’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning, spirituality and research centre. It seeks to make university study accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both recent school leavers and mature-age people. The Tertiary Entry Program developed by Nulloo Yumbah assists students to acquire the skills (including literacy and numeracy), qualifications and confidence they need for university study.

Nulloo Yumbah specialises in the delivery of the Tertiary Entry Program in correctional centres as well as supporting inmates enrolled in other CQUniversity programs. This includes facilitating access to Commonwealth scholarships.

Many incarcerated students have complex backgrounds, which may include troubled home lives, low self-esteem, substance abuse and disengagement from education. Research undertaken by Nulloo Yumbah staff on the experiences of inmates in the Capricornia Correctional Centre has contributed to Nulloo Yumbah’s understanding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student’s environment and barriers to educational achievement.

The structure provided in correctional centres, including access to quiet study areas and the potential for minimal distraction, can be advantageous for students who are in prison. In light of the difficult circumstances and other factors impinging on their studies, the university has adopted a flexible approach to assessment submission. Inmates in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs can access learning assistance, including provision of textbooks and study-related materials, through the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme – Tertiary Tuition.

Some inmates have graduated with a master’s qualification and one is studying for a doctorate. The university has provided graduation ceremonies within prisons.

The University of New England – TRACKS Tertiary Preparation Program

The University of New England’s TRACKS Tertiary Preparation Program provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with an alternative pathway to undergraduate studies by assisting them to develop requisite foundation skills and knowledge. Often coming from non-traditional backgrounds, students include those who are the first in their families to participate in higher education, mature age, and those who are incarcerated. Approximately 80% are from rural or remote areas and many are from low socio-economic status backgrounds. The program also provides opportunities for students with paraprofessional backgrounds to enhance their professional qualifications, including Aboriginal teacher aides and nursing aides. Students may receive Commonwealth and University of New England scholarships.

The TRACKS program embeds cultural knowledge in an academic framework and supports flexible learning—an approach that is particularly relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It assists students to develop academic skills necessary for university studies. TRACKS has had success in using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pedagogy and in relating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of learning to academic culture.

In 2010, TRACKS introduced a Pre-Orientation Program which helped increase participation. New off-campus and on-campus students can familiarise themselves with the university environment, and meet their lecturers and each other.

The TRACKS program is also offered in a distance education mode to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men at the Woodford Correctional Centre in Queensland. The Oorala Aboriginal Centre’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Campus Mentor visits the centre to provide student support and a tutor works with the students two to three hours a week.

Completing TRACKS has helped build inmates’ self-esteem and confidence and has assisted them to find employment upon their release. However, if they choose to study for a degree after completing TRACKS, inmates are limited in the degrees they can complete while in prison and face many obstacles. These include lack of regular access to a computer and online course materials and assessment, and to practical classes. Certain professions are closed to people with a criminal record, including social work, in which there is a common interest.