Third year Criminology students at the University of Roehampton will be visiting Belmarsh prisoners with playwright and youth worker, Nathan Lucky Wood, at the prison in Thamesmead today as part of their degree.
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The Understanding Justice module looks at the issues relating to justice and punishment and brings students from different backgrounds and experiences together to explore these topics.
The module is part of the Learning Together National Network – an initiative started by the University of Cambridge. The network aims to challenge social disadvantage as a barrier to learning by pairing universities with prisons.
The network has expanded rapidly around the country and so far, Roehampton is the only university to be paired with a category A (high security) prison in London.
The module is being taught at Belmarsh one afternoon a week for ten weeks and includes ten students from Roehampton and ten students based in the prison. Prison based students are enrolled at the University of Roehampton for the Understanding Justice module.
Anne Wijayarathne, a student on the course at the University said: “Selecting the Understanding Justice module - which takes place at Belmarsh prison, was the best decision I’ve made during this term. I’ve learnt so much about the justice system from people who are experiencing it, and it has challenged my original ideas of what a prison like Belmarsh might be like.”
Both groups share ideas, debate, reach conclusions and write essays about their understanding of criminal justice, and the different ways in which punishment can be justified.
Dr Alison Lamont, lecturer in Sociology, has been convening the module from the University of Roehampton. Dr Lamont said:
“The security barriers to entering a Category A prison are extremely high and it’s difficult to set up this kind of co-operation. By pairing with a Category A prison, we are reaching students who would never normally have access to degree level education - so this is a great partnership for Roehampton and for the Belmarsh-based students.
“Of course, it does have challenges as well, due to its very nature. All students are briefed at the start of the course and know what to expect from the module and from each other. The course is also carefully monitored to maintain academic standards and meet HMP Belmarsh's exacting security standards.”
Nathan Wood works with the New Horizon Youth Centre in Euston – a charity day centre for young homeless people. He has worked with many young offenders who have just left prison. As a playwright, he has built up his writing skills and now uses that to help the young offenders to become more confident in writing. Nathan said:
“As a youth worker, it appealed to me to help out at Belmarsh with the University of Roehampton. In this group, I’m trying to help the students and prisoners bring out their voices more, so that their arguments are stronger and they can articulate them better.
“Obviously, prisoners are isolated from society, however, some prisoners do welcome the chance to learn and progress their education and this is a great opportunity to do so. I’m excited about helping everyone progress, both in their debates and in their written work.”
In the borough, HMP Wandsworth prison is paired with Middlesex University and other London Universities involved include Edge Hill, the University of Southbank and Kingston.
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