MA Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Prisons: Exploring the Carceral World

Unit code CRIM72212
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Criminology
Available as a free choice unit? No


The prison is one of the most fundamental and yet controversial element of any nation’s criminal justice system. Despite academic and first-hand evidence pointing to a generalised failure of incarceration to curtail crime or to reform criminals, imprisonment continues to be viewed as the appropriate and necessary response to a wide range of illegal activities. More puzzling still, despite its economic and social costs, critical questions about the legitimacy of imprisonment are rarely posed. The unit aims to provide a systematic and critical knowledge of the key empirical and policy-oriented discussions about prisons in the UK.

Indicative content: (1) The history of prison; (2) The space & architecture of prison; (3) Understanding prison official statistics; (4) The pains of imprisonment; (5) ‘Extreme’ imprisonment; (6) Contemporary challenges: Overpopulation; (7) Contemporary challenges: Radicalisation; (8) Contemporary challenges: Corona virus; (9) Researching prison; (10) Summary & group presentations.






The unit aims to provide a systematic and critical knowledge of the key empirical and policy-oriented discussions about prisons in the UK. The course proposes a multidisciplinary approach to deliver weekly research, policy and practice-oriented workshops. Ultimately the aim is to learn how think critically about doing research on prisons and doing research in prisons. As such, the unit proposes an exciting, topical, and still rather unique area of study, which will attract both national and international students.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to: (1) provide a critical account of the main perspectives on prisons; (2) Explain how these can be used to understand contemporary issues in penal policy; (3) Develop a critical understanding of the origins and development of prisons, implementation and daily practices of imprisonment, and contemporary challenges.

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching in academic year 20/21 will reflect both University policy and local and national lockdown restrictions operating at the time of delivery. We will offer face-to-face teaching where possible and provide a like for like on-line experience for those unable to be on campus.

Our teaching models will be flexible and allow us to adapt to changing conditions, however, the common intention across units is to provide (1) media, activities and other learning material that should be engaged with before scheduled teaching; (2) a timetabled online lecture/workshop session used for a range of online Q&A and follow-up activities; (3) weekly opportunity for 1:1 support. In total, there will be the opportunity for a minimum of 20 hours of contact time.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Employability skills: In addition to subject-specific knowledge and understanding, Criminology units foster highly employable skills such as the ability to (i) analyse, critique and (re-)formulate a problem or issue; (ii) rapidly and thoroughly review/rate argument and evidence from targeted bibliographic searches; (iii) plan, structure and present arguments in a variety of written formats and to a strict word limit, (iv) express ideas verbally and organise work effectively in small teams for a variety of written and oral tasks; (v) obtain, manipulate and (re-)present different forms of data; (vi) manage time effectively; (vii) reflect on and improve performance through feedback.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

Formative feedback (both individual and collective) will be given on (1) on tasks and contribution in class, (2) developing group presentation plans. Detailed summative feedback will be given on the submitted essay via Blackboard (Grademark).

Recommended reading

The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice; The British Journal of Criminology; Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Marion Vannier Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment methods: This unit is summatively assessed by a 3000 word essay (worth 80% of the overall mark) plus a group presentation (worth 20%).

Study hours: Across their course units each semester, full-time students are expected to devote a ‘working week’ of 35-40 hours to study. Accordingly each course unit demands 9-10 hours of study per week comprised of (i) timetabled contact hours, (ii) preparation, required and further reading. Part-time students study the same number of weekly hours per unit but take fewer units per semester.

Pre-requisites: None, however, a basic familiarity with prisons in the context of a criminal justice system, would be an advantage.

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