Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Robert Donmoyer, PhD; Fred J. Galloway, EdD; Alan Mobley, PhD; Theresa M. Monroe, EdD


Restorative Justice, Prisoner Re-entry, Prison Education, Formerly Incarcerated Students


The U.S. is the world’s “leading jailer” with both the highest incarceration rate and the largest number of prisoners. Each year more than 700,000 inmates are released from prison and re-enter their communities. The majority of released prisoners lack the necessary education, work experience, and life skills to successfully reintegrate back into society.

One alternative to the retributive model of justice used in the United States is a restorative justice strategy. A restorative approach to prisoner reintegration seeks to re-establish community support and acceptance for criminal offenders in order to allow them to become beneficial members of society. The literature on prisoner re-entry and reintegration suggests that the formerly incarcerated are more apt to successfully re-enter society when they attain education and employment, and maintain familial and community associations.

Presently, there is a lack of knowledge about what the formerly incarcerated experience after they are released from prison and participate in post-secondary education. The central research question for this qualitative multi-case study was: What effect, if any, has participation in higher education for the formerly incarcerated had on their experiences of reintegration back into their communities? The study further examined the barriers to higher education encountered, the social and human capital attained, and former prisoners’ own experiences during both incarceration and post-incarceration higher education.

Six participants were invited to tell their life stories in order to make meaning of their experiences as both prisoners and as higher education students. One of the life stories was an auto-ethnographic account of the researcher’s own experience as both a former inmate and, presently, a doctoral candidate. Qualitative interviews were used to collect data from the other participants. Life-story and phenomenological methods were employed to collect and analyze these data. A cross-case analysis was conducted to compare and contrast the individual cases.

Findings indicate that participating in higher education had a positive impact on the reintegration experience of those formerly incarcerated individuals that participated in the study. The participant’s life-stories suggest that higher education played an important role in restoring and creating relationships within the community, and enhanced their human and social capital.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.