When we talk about classes in prisons, they are often skills trainings, values education, spirituality and religion. Durham University is taking a step further by introducing the first criminology education classes in European penitentiary history.
Durham University will hold criminology classes inside high category prisons Her Majesty’s Prison Services Durham and January 2015 in HMP Frankland.
A number of third year criminology students in the university’s School of Applied Social Sciences will take a criminal justice course together with the same number of prisoners. They will be classmates in the prisons for 10 weeks. The students and prisoners will study topics including whether prison works, the causes of crime and the criminalisation of drugs.
Durham University’s criminology lecturers who will teach the course have undergone training in the USA inside maximum security correctional facilities.
The programme is based on Inside-Out of the US’s Temple University which started in 1997. Already more than 20,000 students have participated in the original American programme. It is conceived with the aim of breaking down the barriers and prejudices between prisoners and law enforcers. Longer term initiatives like academics-supported think-tanks in US prisons resulted from the programme.
Its purpose is to give both university students and prisoners the unique opportunity to be peers studying together in a real prison environment. Just like a usual class, instructors will encourage both the students and the inmates to share their ideas and have dialogue.
The programme provides its “outside” students (the university students) the experience of going inside a jail facility and actually feel how is it like behind prison walls. It is an excellent venue where the university students can study crime and issues around criminal justice. According to one of the university’s lecturer, Kate O’Brien, the programme will be the first experience to set foot in a prison facility for majority of the participating university students.
In the programme, participating prisoners are referred to as “inside” students or “students on the inside.” For this group of participants, the goal of the programme is to encourage them to “recognise their capacity to make changes in their own lives as well as in the broader society.”
In The Long Haul
The programme would like them to be challenged intellectually and enhance their potential for further education, training and employability once they are released from prison. Durham prison deputy governor Angie Petit says that they welcome the partnership with the university. She points out that the programme will greatly help in their goal of breaking the cycle of reoffending as it adds to their education and future employment chances of their wards.
In the programme, the university and the prison services work together to “hit two birds with one stone.” They help each other to serve each other’s purpose. Plus, they do so with a broader reach and a deeper meaning. They help educate the side of law enforcement and the inmates.
The Silver Lining
The initiative of the university’s criminology education department will help to further enable authorities and the society to better understand the life of convicts. Not only that they can help correct the mistakes and prevent it from happening to others. At the same time, on the side behind bars, they will better understand the justice system and the society outside. This way, they will be able to better themselves and be integrated back to the society and live a better life.