CR5005 - Prisons and Punishment

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What will I learn on this module?

Punishing people for breaking the law is clearly one of the most important elements of the criminal justice system. But how are people punished? Why are people punished? Is punishment really the best way to change people’s future behaviour?

This is an important module for all students studying any aspect of criminology, and it will ask you to think about whether and how different penal theories (ideas about punishment) are practised in the UK and around the globe. For example, is it possible to have an effective criminal justice system that has elements of both retributive and reparative justice? How might these possibly competing ideas work in harmony? Can we punish people for the things that they have done wrong, while at the same time try to get people to address their offending behaviour?

We will then explore the role and emergence of the modern prison in England and Wales. We will look at internal cultures and organisation of prisons and community sentences. We will consider how they are managed and inspected, and how news about the state of prisons is communicated to the ‘outside’ world. Most importantly we will consider the impact on prisoners and offenders of policy changes over the last 50 years. This will include comparing styles of policy and practice in Europe (including looking at Nordic exceptionalism), the ‘Americanisation’ of the penal system, and the role of privatisation on prisons and community sentences.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn through different teaching and learning strategies and techniques, and by completing a range of tasks. The 2-hour lectures will be primarily led by the tutor, and the seminar sessions, guided by the tutor, will be based on your preparation outside of classes.

You should expect
• Research rich lectures
• Engagement with and analysis of media – each 2-hour session include short media clips, mainly TV and film, about the topic, which will spark your own questioning of the topics, and support your seminar preparation
• In-class tasks including theoretical analysis of practitioner blogs, government reports and news items
• Small group work
• Interactive online in-class quizzes
• Inside and outside class to read, summarise and evaluate scholarly, practitioner, government and former offender written literature
• To watch films, TV programmes and documentaries and listen to podcasts outside of classes in preparation for discussion

You will have access to an online learning space as part of the module. This will include the module outline and other general information, assessments, electronic readings lists, announcements and other teaching materials.

The module aims to consolidate your skills in areas such as team work and research. The research may be with others or on an individual basis. You are expected to carry out the preparation for each week, and be willing to share this information with others on the module to help provoke discussion and disagreement. These skills will help to develop your confidence in in synthesising, evaluating, explaining and discussing information from a wide range of sources.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

You will be able to get support on this module face to face and online.

Face to face support will be provided by the module tutor(s) in the lectures and seminars by answering questions, helping you to explore discussion points and preparing for the unseen exam. You can attend a tutor’s office hours, or make an appointment at other times. Face to face support will also be offered by other students in your class. Through the ongoing debates about the topics, you will be encouraged to offer support and constructive criticism to your peers.

All of the module materials are available through the e-learning portal; this includes the module outline and reading lists. Help sheets from the teaching team and the learning support team in the library about how to prepare and revise for unseen exams will be available online, and information about how to search for and access online resources will be posted by the tutors. They will also regularly post items of interest from the news on the e-portal.

Developing your ability to reflect informatively, and think critically about some of the challenges facing criminal justice, and associated, agencies is central to this module. You will be encouraged to explore online resources from a wide variety of authors (government, third sector organisations, criminal justice practitioners, former offenders, news organisations) and to actively engage with them to help your academic development.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:

1. To be able to identify penal theory, policy and practice in contemporary Britain and other countries.

2. To demonstrate an informed knowledge of the internal culture and organisational structure of a prison and community punishment arrangements.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:

1. To collaborate with others to question and explore the ongoing debates about penal practices, and to exchange these views through face to face engagement, written pieces and online research and discussion.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):

1. To have confidence in your own knowledge and understanding about contemporary and historical penal practice, to be open to different viewpoints, and to express knowledge about people and practices in a non-judgemental manner.

How will I be assessed?

In-class discussions are based on preparation outside of contact hours. Verbal feedback will be given to discussion groups. General feedback to the whole class will be available on the eLP. Feedback from the discussions will help you in preparing for the unseen exam. These discussions will address all MLOs.

Small interactive quizzes (non-assessed) will be used. Verbal feedback will be given to the class. These quizzes will assess MLO 1 and 2.

An in-seminar task late in the semester will support you in preparing for the exam. This task will ask you to plan a mock-exam answer and write the first paragraph. It will be a timed session. The feedback will be provided by peers and by the seminar tutor. This will assess all MLOs.

The unseen exam is the summative assessment for this module. This exam will address MLOs 1, 2 and 4.

Feedback will be individual and electronic.





Module abstract

Please find details of this module in the other sections provided.

Course info

UCAS Code C8M9

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years full time/4 years full time with optional study abroad year

Department Psychology

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2021

Fee Information

Module Information

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