Outside Kent University… and Inside HMP Swaleside

Last month, students from the University of Kent came together with their fellow students at HMP Swaleside to celebrate the completion of a distinctive university module. The ‘Inside’ Students from Swaleside and the ‘Outside’ students from Kent University had spent one day a week for the last academic term taking part in an Inside Out criminology partnership within the prison.

The 10-week course: ‘Issues in Criminal Justice’, explored a wide range of challenging topics, from the justification of punishment to understanding the victim. Students from both Kent University and HMP Swaleside collaborated on small group discussion tasks and longer term projects to, as module leader Dr Caroline Chatwin puts it, “inspire new perspectives in each other’s world views”.

The course is demanding and academically rigorous, requiring weekly reading and writing tasks as well as an assessed final group project. Ensuring parity with degree modules which run outside of the prison is vital as every student, from both institutions, will receive 15 credits from the University of Kent.

Students from a range of backgrounds spoke about the profound impact that involvement in the course has had on their perspectives. Megan, a student at Kent University, said: “My stereotypes and previous preconceptions of prison life inside and the inside students have been challenged and changed in an overwhelmingly positive way.”

For others, the course offered an important break from the prison regime. Marlon, at HMP Swaleside, said: “We’re in a culture where you keep emotions inside – the course gave me a chance to express myself.” Wayne said that by creating a space built upon equality and respect, the course allowed him “to explore who he wants to be”. “In our hearts we know we’re good people, but the hardest part is being a person who’s aspiring to be someone better,” he said.

This partnership has gone further than impacting the lives of these individuals. Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Deputy Governor Mark Ike, reminded the diverse audience why this partnership is important for the wider prison system. “I came into the prison service to provide enrichment and opportunity and to give men a chance to change their lives,” he said. In a stretched prison system, such opportunities can be hard to find, “but this is one of them”.

He spoke of the role that this partnership played in creating a rehabilitative culture and thanked Dr. Chatwin and Malcolm Whitelaw, Head of Learning and Skills at the prison who facilitated the partnership, “for making sure we don’t lose sight of what we’re doing here”.

Now in its second year, one of the biggest changes Dr Chatwin has made to the course has been the involvement of previous participants, who returned to work as teaching assistants with the new cohort. “This has proved an invaluable asset in terms of enriching the discussions and facilitating the relationships between all the students,” she said.

Chatwin plans to continue to run our Inside-Out programme, but also to further develop and deepen the links between UKC and HMP Swaleside, for example by sharing more resources between the two institutions and allowing Swaleside students access to a greater range of Kent’s modules.

The Inside Out Prison Exchange programme was first developed by Lori Pompa in 1997 in Philadelphia and was first brought to the UK in 2014 by Professor Fiona Measham at the University of Durham. It is part of PET’s PUPiL (Prison University Partnerships in Learning network) which aims to encourage and support university/prison partnerships across the UK.