PUPiL Blog: Inside 'Learning Criminology Inside' - A Second Perspective

The first cohort of students for Learning Criminology Inside completed the teaching part of the course in December 2017 and the assessments in January 2018.  This was led by Prof. Shadd Maruna, Dr Rose Broad and Dr Caroline Miles. This partnership between the University of Manchester and HMP Risley was a 3rd year BA Criminology course unit called 'From Imprisonment to Rehabilitation'. This pilot project was funded by the University’s Centre for Higher Education Research, Innovation and Learning (CHERIL), and this funding included resources for a dedicated researcher. Here Hannah, an undergradute student from this first cohort tells us about her experiences on the course.

It has been such an unforgettable experience. Though I have worked with offenders before, this experience was unique because we were all students. The status between us was equal.

I sat down and read through all the reflections we were required to keep throughout the Learning Criminology Inside project. It was strange reading them back, it feels like such a long time ago and yet was only last semester. I chuckled to myself as I read through them. Week one was filled with hope and excitement, “I was so glad to have finally met the students”, “I am really looking forward to working with these guys”. I remember before we went to Risley for the first time I was so nervous but as soon as the first session was over, I felt ridiculous for ever feeling nervous. 

HMP Risley Inside Criminology Inside

It has been such an unforgettable experience. Though I have worked with offenders before, this experience was unique because we were all students. The status between us was equal, unlike in probation, for example, where you are the volunteer and they are the service user. The authority was not present, and this was really important and why I think we all got on well. As students, we learned together and got to know one another as friends.

I miss working with people from different backgrounds, who have had different life experiences, and who share my opinion but because they have lived it, whereas, I’ve just read about it.

Semester two is now in full swing and it feels wrong to not be going to Risley on a Wednesday. I now feel like it is necessary for criminology modules to have a ‘practical’ side to them, as well as the theoretical. Although I love my readings and discovering new books, I miss going out there and ‘doing’ criminology. I miss working with people from different backgrounds, who have had different life experiences, and who share my opinion but because they have lived it, whereas, I’ve just read about it.

As the weeks went on I wrote about all sorts; week 2: “I found it challenging having to battle it out with people to speak my point”, week 3: “I really enjoy listening to the opinions of the prison students because though they don’t say it like how I would, we are still touching on the same issues and actually share the same opinion”, week 4: “Though I come from a different background to Ed and Geoff, we used to do the same stuff”, week 5: “I like that The Beast always brings his culture into the discussion”, week 6: “It is always refreshing to hear new thoughts on issues as university students (I find) tend to have the same thoughts”, week 7: “I really hope he never sees a prison again”, and week 8: “It’s going to be really sad when it’s the final session.”.

HMP Risley Learning Inside

Learning Criminology Inside provided a space for you to apply theories to real and lived experiences. I remember one week the topic was on sex offenders and the lads were quick to distance themselves from those ‘types’. I thought of Sykes and Matza’s (1957) theory on ‘techniques of neutralisation’, particularly ‘denial of injury’; the concept that, though an offence is committed (e.g. a drug offence) it does not cause much harm compared to other, more serious offences (e.g. a sex offence). Another week was on female offenders and again, the lads were quick to distance themselves and to give quite traditional views on women. Heidensohn’s (1985) work on the concept of ‘double deviance’ came to mind; female offenders are seen to be doubly deviant as not only have they committed a crime, but they have also transgressed from their feminine role. Finally, one week was on youth offending and I bonded with a couple of the lads over stupid stuff you used to do as a kid and it reminded me of Katz’s (1988) theory on seductions of crime. When one is young and bored, one seeks thrills and offending can provide that ‘rush’ that many young people desire. In sum, I found it fascinating to apply my favourite criminologists' work to real situations.

When I went up to collect my certificate in the final session, I said something like, this experience has made me so excited to do similar things for the rest of my life, and I was not lying.

When I went up to collect my certificate in the final session, I said something like, this experience has made me so excited to do similar things for the rest of my life, and I was not lying. I felt a spark to become a criminologist in my first year of university and each year I get more motivated. It is projects like Learning Criminology Inside that keep me motivated, so I am forever grateful to the university, to my lecturers and to the students. 

As we walked out of the prison, for the first time since the project started, I did not notice the prison walls. They shattered. We had done that. By coming in week after week and taking part in this project and with the guys taking part, we broke the wall down and connected. And I think that’s what it’s all about. Reaching out, connecting and staying connected. Foucault said that modern punishment is hidden and I do agree that it is particularly through the architecture (high walls, obscure locations). But through operations like this project, we make punishment visible. We push it to the surface and make punishment the community’s problem, our problem, everyone’s problem. We all need to deal with it as that is the only true way we can help people.

Last week I was at a postgraduate event and discovered Learning Criminology Inside is now being made available at postgrad level. Sign me up!

This is part of the PUPiL blog series. If you would like to respond to the points and issues raised in this blog, or to contribute to the blog yourself, please contact Morwenna