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Education for incarcerated Aboriginal Western Australians: Education revolution or just plain revolting?

Carnes, R. (2011) Education for incarcerated Aboriginal Western Australians: Education revolution or just plain revolting? In: AARE 2011, 27 November - 1 December 2011, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart

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The current Australian Federal government has voiced a commitment to an “education revolution” and set targets for “closing the gap” in education attainment for Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, this revolution appears to have bypassed prison education altogether with no mention of it in the publicly available policy documents. This is regrettable given the large numbers of Aboriginal people in custody and begs the question “Are our incarcerated Indigenous citizens going to be excluded from any potential benefit of the ʻrevolutionʼ?”

Education of incarcerated people is not often the subject of academic research. Furthermore, consideration of prisoner education from the viewpoint of Aboriginal prisoners reveals a research boundary that is seldom noted, let alone crossed. When referring to the issue of Aboriginal people and education in prisons, Semmens (1998: 1-2) laments that it “is probably the most persistently serious problem that the various governments of Australia have never faced with much resolve or dedication.” After considering reports by the Western Australian Inspector of Custodial Services over the past decade along with the history of Aboriginal education in Western Australia it seems that little has changed since Semmens made his comments in 1998. This is also reflected in the voices of Aboriginal people with whom I have been yarning for my PhD project “Closing the Gap in Indigenous Prisoner Education”. Overall, a picture is emerging of inadequate resources, lack of attention in practice to cultural needs and provision of training that is useless to prisoners upon release back to their own communities.

Considering these preliminary findings in the light of theories of critical whiteness and patriarchal white sovereignty, the paper raises more questions than it provides answers. It highlights the poor state of prisoner education in general and, more specifically, the situation for Aboriginal adults in Western Australian prisons.

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