Studying prison with prisoners: The Oxford-HMP Huntercombe reading group

Post by Mary Bosworth, Director, Centre for Criminology. Mary’s current research focuses on people’s experiences of immigration detention and deportation. In Oxford she teaches the MSc ‘Prisons’ option.


Time to read

2 Minutes

From its origins, the Centre for Criminology has been a site of research and teaching on prisons.  Currently we have a significant number of DPhil students studying a variety of aspects of incarceration (in prisons and immigration detention centres) and its impact.  Three of the permanent members of staff (Prof. Bosworth, Prof. Hoyle and Dr Condry) and many of our postdoctoral fellows work on such matters.  The Centre hosts an international network of researchers who work on prisoners’ families, as well as the Border Criminologies international research network that has pioneered research into immigration detention and the experiences of foreign national prisoners.  BA postdoctoral fellow, Dr Shona Minson has conducted pioneering work with imprisoned mothers, while International Newton Fellow (Leverhulme Trust), Dr Francesca Esposito, is working on the gendered nature of immigration detention.  Many of our academic visitors and members of our advisory board (eg. Profs. Alison Liebling and Laura Piacentini, Lady Edwina Grosvenor, Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui, Dame Elish Angiolini) also work on prisons.

Matters of incarceration also form part of the MSc curriculum, appearing in the core course as well as in specific options eg ‘Prisons’, ‘the Death Penalty’, ‘Theorizing Punishment’, ‘Criminal Justice, Migration and Citizenship’.  Students regularly write their MSc dissertation on a topic related to such matters.

This year, in recognition of student interest in prisons, and also as part of our commitment to local outreach, the Centre for Criminology established a new reading group with HMP Huntercombe. The students came up with a reading list, which we shared with the men in Huntercombe alongside some recordings from the Earhustle podcast made by prisoners at San Quentin prison in San Francisco.  Together these pieces formed the basis of group discussion.

This kind of reading project exists in other universities; the most famous being the Cambridge model known as ‘Learning together’.  The Oxford/Huntercombe reading group plan is relatively modest in scale. We hope to continue this reading group next year. The pilot project was very successful.  The Oxford students learned an enormous amount, and feedback from the prison was positive too.

Over the next week, the Centre Blog will show case pieces by two of the Oxford students in the reading group and three of the Huntercombe men to give a flavour of the kinds of things discussed.  Each of the posts engages with the lived experience and impact of the prison, asking questions about the purpose and nature of this form of punishment. Next year, we hope to continue with this program and to develop it more. We are grateful for the enthusiasm and assistance from the prison to make this endeavour possible.