“What if They Open That Door One Day?” What Education Means to People Sentenced to Juvenile Life Without Parole
Clint Smith Dissertation - Final Submission.docx (1.048Mb)
Access StatusFull text of the requested work is not available in DASH at this time ("dark deposit"). For more information on dark deposits, see our FAQ.
MetadataShow full item record
CitationSmith, Clint. 2020. “What if They Open That Door One Day?” What Education Means to People Sentenced to Juvenile Life Without Parole. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractAs of 2016, 161,957 people in prison were serving a life sentence and 44,311 people were serving “virtual life” sentences, leaving the total population of 206,268—or one in every seven people in prison. Of these, there were approximately 2,500 people who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole—a sentence that the United States in alone in authorizing. Research around prison education has often been focused on the ways that education reduces recidivism, which is understandable since 95% of those in jail and prison will be released back into society. Still, there are thousands of people serving life sentences, and there is little research to illuminate the scope of their educational experiences. Thus, in this study, I explore the following research question: How do people who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole and then released after Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) understand and articulate the purpose of education before, during, and after they are incarcerated? I explore this question by using 27 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole in greater Philadelphia, PA—the metro area with the largest population of people sentenced to juvenile life without parole worldwide—and asking them to explain the role that education has played in their lives prior to, during, and following their release from prison.
What I find is that many of these individuals experienced trauma, poverty, neglect, and disillusionment in (or adjacent to) their early educational experiences. Once inside of prison, this disillusionment, along with their youth, often made participants reticent to participate in educational programming, if such programming was made available to them at all. When they did eventually begin participating in both formal and informal educational spaces, they did so as a means of finding purpose, community, and identity in a place where they were told they would spend the rest of their lives. These programs, classes, and spaces, however, also served a specific utilitarian purpose, in that many participants used them as a way to work towards building a robust academic, legal, and behavioral record with hopes of being released one day. After they have been released, many expressed the desire to pursue education, but cited financial limitations and an inability to get a job—much less pay for school—as a significant impediment to any possibilities of further study.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365835
- FAS Theses and Dissertations