Over the past few years, I have been teaching students in prison on some OU courses and it was good to discuss some of the issues at Saturday's staff development day in Bristol.
One thing that has become clear is that prisoners are very diverse and the circumstances are also very diverse. They vary greatly in terms of how much time and space there is for study. Some students submit early because they feel they have so much free time to fill whereas oithers have many other duties (one I taught was doing many jobs and many other courses). Students can also be disrupted by suddenly having to share cells. An issue I was not aware of before doing this work is that many prisoners change prisons quite frequently and at short notice. Apparently, they are not always able to take their materials with them, which must be very disruptive.
I think OU tutors are used to being flexible and working with prisons demands this habit of being flexible. For example, visits can be cancelled at short notice and some students submit by post and this might mean they arrive at unexpected times. Some prisons have much stricter security procedures than others and tutors need to be prepared for long waits at the gate although sometimes entry can be reasonably quick.
A big issue for the OU as an institution is enabling courses to be accessible to prison students and courses that are completely online (eg L185 EAP Online) are not available to students. Unfortunately, this would be a very useful course for many students in prison.