Prisoners are studying with Cambridge University criminology students as part of a ground-breaking project.
The scheme, funded by the British Academy, is designed to target a ‘wealth of untapped academic talent’ inside the criminal justice system.
To date, 22 prisoners have participated in the Learning Together initiative at HMP Grendon in Bucks., which completed its second term last week.
The project has received praise from the Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, who said: “We must be more demanding of our prisons, and more demanding of offenders, which means giving prisoners new opportunities but expecting them to engage seriously and purposefully in education and work.
“I have seen for myself that the Learning Together Initiative at HMP Grendon provides the chance for prisoners to work towards their full potential and gain qualifications as a result.
“ It does great work and it is a testament to the scheme and the hard work of those involved that so many are able to attend the graduation ceremony.”
Many students have described it as a life-changing experience, and one student who is currently in prison has already had a paper accepted by an academic journal.
A student called Zaheer said: “It gave me self-esteem and confidence in my own abilities… Being able to put our past behind us and do something positive like this has helped our confidence, transforming our lives.”
The project consists of carefully-structured, eight-week courses involving both graduates studying for the MPhil in Criminology at the University of Cambridge and students from the prison itself.
All of the participants co-operate on equal terms, sharing exactly the same study materials, and working together in small group sessions.
One participant, Gareth, has already written a review of an academic book that he will publish next month.
He said: “For a large part of my sentence, who I am has been entirely synonymous with the reasons I ended up in prison.
“Reflecting on the initiative, it seems that the overwhelming product was that I was reminded of being someone other than the person who committed these offences.
“I am someone who has valid and useful opinions, I have an interest in how society works, and the connectedness we feel with the other people who we share this world with.
“I am developing a sense that not only do I want to help people - I am starting to believe I can.”
Jamie Bennett, Governor of HMP Grendon, said: “The therapeutic work of Grendon helps to explore and manage some of the profound traumas and problems experienced by the men in our care. Whilst doing this, it is also important to offer opportunities in which they can discover and develop their talents. This course is an example of that.”