Penal Institutions


This module provides knowledge and understanding of the prison system, the experience of imprisonment and penal policy and practice in the UK.


To provide the student with the opportunity to explore developments in penal policy and practice, the lived experience of imprisonment and considers alternatives to imprisonment.It will also consider some of the issues surrounding detention and incarceration for foreign nationals.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Collaborate with other students in discussion and presentation to critically assess and evaluate penal policy in modern British society.

2.  Critically assess the effect of imprisonment as a form of punishment on prisoners and their families through detailed enquiry based learning on the challenges that confront them.

3.  Identify and assess the effectiveness of alternatives to custody through confidently using and evaluating statistical evidence on alternative disposals.

4.  Critically examine the complex nature of attitudes to imprisonment and challenge thinking on penal abolition and punitive discourses.

5.  Critically examine the growing concerns relating to the detention of foreign nationals in the UK

Indicative Content

1 Contemporary developments in Penal Theory, Policy & Practice

Penal institutions in contemporary society.The crises of legitimacy in penal institutions. Reorganisation and reform. Privatisation of the prison system.

2 Prison Life The Reality

'Doing time' the actuality of prison life, the 'total institution'? Strategies for survival, regime activities, 'banged up' prisoners, prison staff and civilian staff. Dealing with social exclusion. The diversity of the prison population. Stratification and power within prisons.

3 Alternatives to Imprisonment The Way Forward?

Reducing risk or protecting the public? Reducing fear of crime? Human or humane containment and warehousing. Therapeutic prisons. Electronic tagging, community service orders, mediation/reparation.

4 Attitudes to imprisonment

Why do we have prisons? Why are they at the centre of penal policy? Are they culturally 'acceptable'? Abolitionism

5 Foreign Nationals

detention centres; foreign national prisoners and race relations in prisons; are immigration detention centres new types of penal establishments; critical issues surrounding foreign national prisoners in the UK

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The module is taught by lecture and seminar with students being encouraged to challenge through debate, the complexity and problems of social, cultural and political attitudes to imprisonment as a form of punishment in contemporary society.Students will be encouraged to critically assess and evaluate penal policy and practice through reading accounts of the 'lived' experience of imprisonment from prisoner autobiographies and prison research.This material will be accessed independently to form the basis of enquiry based learning for discussion and debate in tutorial groups that focus on the contested nature of imprisonment as a form of punishment. This ambitious enquiry allows students to share understandings of controversial and contentious views on the use of imprisonment in the 21st century including the experiences of foreign national prisoners. Students will be encouraged to comment on representations of the penal system and direct their enquiries towards challenging accepted views on the prison through searching and using internet sources and evaluating information gained from visits to penal institutions when they can be arranged.Approximately 60% of the module is devoted to self directed learning with students being encouraged to use government websites on penal policy and practice with confidence. Assessment is by essay focusing on learning outcomes 1,2,3, 4 and 5 to demonstrate confidence in analytical approaches to evaluating penal policy and practice.Group seminar work is collaborative and reflexive, every week, encouraging confidence in thinking about and evaluating the role and functions of prisons in line with graduate attributes at this level of study to encourage breadth and depth of reading and as described in learning outcomes.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 201
Lecture 20
Tutorial/Seminar 10
Supervised Practical Activity 0
Unsupervised Practical Activity 1
Assessment 30
Independent 140

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2019/10 , and may be subject to change for future years.