Andragogy In Prisons    by Ruth Utnage

The adult learning experience is of personal intrigue to me because of the principal of scarcity. What is limited is that which I seek to affirm my social status in any given environment. To be blunt, when I feel like I’m living in a space where cognitively disabled individuals presumably reign as authority, I seek to be educated because education is the commodity in the scarcest form. Adult-based learning is also the point of prison. Consider the phrases:

“I hope you learn your lesson”
“Prison will teach you a thing or two”
“Correction center”
“Prisoner rehabilitation”

All of which point to adult-based learning objectives as the underpinnings of modern confinement. As research in andragogical learning emerges what is painfully clear is that the ideal learning conditions for adults is not achievable in today’s prisons. “The instructor’s role is to facilitate rather than dominate the learning.” (Merriam, Saharan B., and Laura L. Bierema. Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice, John Wiley and Sons, Incorporated, 2013). The “instructor” in the case of prisons is the elected officials who mandate what educational systems are required by law to be offered. We can then further delve into this theoretical approach and critical analysis of prison instruction by pointing out that every prison employee then becomes an educator, or, instructor. The presence of militarily clad authoritarian officials is now in direct opposition to modern research of how to best “teach a lesson” to an adult.

The opposition appears best when we see the dress code and apartheidic systems of the instructor (prison employee) and the student (prisoner). The clear distinction draws a correlation to class separation and a mood of unattainable self-actualization (as introduced by Abraham Maslow) where one demographic has autonomy (a need for adult learners) and one does not. The question, then, must be asked: If prisons aren’t well-suited for adult learning as proven by modern science, what are they well-suited for?

I want to leave you with this, dear reader, prisons were designed to “teach a lesson” and deter the next generation from committing crimes. The thought has been to make prison as harsh as possible, and for a long time they were. There was public executions where bloody and brutal displays were touted as the cutting-edge in public safety and did absolutely nothing to stop crime of any sort, we know this because crime continued despite the morbidity of a given punishment (for more on this see Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish). As technologies emerged like the electric chair and science pointed to cognitive reasoning as the culprits for crime punishments became more advanced and clever because older systems had not only failed to stop crime, crime increased to a point where old systems of morbid and harsh penalties were no longer possible to maintain, there was too much demand. This proves a complete failure of that model and “cracking down and making things harsher for criminals” was not only ineffective, but made things worse.

Now we are here where the “instructor” has simply given up and is still holding on to old beliefs and wives tales about corrections, ignoring the data being freely given that not only fulfills the ideological purpose of confinement by truly making “safer communities” but is also a more humane approach to correctional systems as a whole.

Written by Ruth Utnage

I am a trans inmate incarcerated in Washington State since 2011. I intend on entering the field of Human Resources and intersecting that with technology-based HRM. I am highly interested in being mentored in business and life in general. Feel free to contact me! My name is legally Ruth Utnage but any letter to me must have my initial incarcerated name lest I forget I am a partially owned human being. I am the founder and owner of

Contact info:
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage 823469 C-601-2
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA 98272

or via

Name: Jeff Utnage (can, and should, address email to Ruth, not Jeff)
DOC#: 823469

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