Unlocking Learning

International Perspectives on Education in Prison

Edited by Justin McDevitt and Mneesha Gellman

Countries around the world have disparate experiences with education in prison. For decades, the United States has been locked in a pattern of exceptionally high mass incarceration. Though education has proven to be an impactful intervention, its role and the level of support it receives vary widely. As a result, effective opportunities for incarcerated people to reroute their lives during and after incarceration remain diffuse and inefficient. This volume highlights unique contributions from the field of education in prison globally.

In this volume academics and practitioners highlight new approaches and interesting findings from carceral interventions across twelve countries. From a college degree granting program in Mexico to educational best practices in Norway and Belgium that support successful reentry, innovations in education are being developed in prison spaces around the world. As contributors from many countries share their insights about providing effective educational programs to incarcerated people, the United States can learn from the models and struggles beyond its borders.

Learn more about the book here.

Cover Image of Unlocking Learning: International Perspectives on Education in Prison
Paper: $35 | Cloth: $120 | E-book: $34.95
ISBN-13: 9781684581924
Pages: 307 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: February 15, 2024

An essential practical, theoretical and evidence-informed resource about the question of education in prison.

Aislinn O’Donnell

Maynooth University


  • An essential practical, theoretical and evidence-informed resource about the question of education in prison. This book offers hope to those jurisdictions mired in high rates of incarceration or challenging environments in prison that other visions for both education and other models of the penal system are not only possible, but already exist.

    Aislinn O'Donnell
    Maynooth University
  • This important volume brings a much needed international perspective to the study and practice of higher education in prisons. Practitioners will find a wealth of information to validate, inform, and inspire their own work here, but it is often what goes unsaid or is assumed in the countries represented in this volume that shows us glimpses of the possible — what education in prison can and should be.

    Kurtis Tanaka
    Senior Program Manager, Justice Initiatives, Ithaka S+R

About the Author

Justin McDevitt is the director of the Women’s College Partnership, a program of the Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (NDPEP) in the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame and in collaboration with Marian University and the Bard Prison Initiative. Before that, he served as assistant director for alumni affairs and reentry for the Moreau College Initiative, also a program of NDPEP and in collaboration with Holy Cross College (IN). Justin has taught courses in American politics, urban politics, race and politics, global migration, and interfaith dialogue. Justin holds a juris doctor (J.D.) from Loyola University Chicago, where his work included field research on labor migration in Chile, farm workers’ rights in central Illinois, and gender-based violence in Tanzania. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in American politics at the University of Notre Dame, where his dissertation research focuses on the political development of collateral consequences of felony convictions. He is also co-founder and executive director of Life Outside, a not-for-profit reentry organization based in South Bend, Indiana.

Mneesha Gellman is associate professor of political science in the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College. She is the founder and director of the Emerson Prison Initiative, which brings a BA pathway to incarcerated students at state prisons in Massachusetts. Gellman is the editor of Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison (2022). Gellman is the author of Indigenous Language Politics in the Schoolroom: Cultural Survival in Mexico and the United States (2023), and Democratization and Memories of Violence: Ethnic Minority Social Movements in Mexico, Turkey, and El Salvador (2017). She has published widely in both academic journals and popular outlets on a range of issues having to do with democracy and human rights. Gellman serves as an expert witness in asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts for people from Mexico and El Salvador.

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