First ever Scottish Universities Prisons Network Conference

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From the Western Region – June 2019

‘Has do-gooding done any good?’

This was from the thought-provoking keynote speech by Paula Harriott at the first ever Scottish Universities-Prisons Network conference held in Edinburgh at the end of March. The conference was a collaborative opportunity for those involved in university-prison education to learn more about the diverse activities that are currently happening in Scotland, discuss some of the challenges that arise from them and gain insight into others’ perspectives. Paula’s keynote speech reflected on the necessity of deep listening when working with people in prisons, highlighting that we need to move away from ‘help’ and into ‘service’; addressing the potential ethical challenges that arise from imposing educational agendas onto learners in prisons rather than ensuring that what is offered is meeting their needs.

The conference opened with presentations in the PechaKucha format; where each presenter showed 20 slides for 20 seconds per slide. These covered a number of current partnership activities and provided a substantive base for the three reflective panel sessions in the afternoon.

Three key themes were Empowering, Linking and Making and there were panel sessions for each of these.

  • The ‘Empowering’ panel explored the potential limits of universities as facilitators of empowerment in prison settings and included an insight into the work of Scottish Prisoner Advocacy and Research Collective (SPARC) who conduct research through collective action to highlight alternative practices. Their presentation reiterated Paula’s comments about the importance of listening to the individual to discover their preferences through review of current prison education models.
  • The panel on ‘Linking’ explored the connections between different forms, models and philosophies of education in prisons and was comprised of presentations from university professionals about the current prison partnership work that they do, examples of successes, challenges and opportunities for individual progression into Higher Education.
  • The ‘Making’ panel reflected on the ethics, logistics and potential of creative arts in prisons with a reflection on how women are represented in prison through current media.

It was agreed by all that the conference should become an annual event to allow ongoing reflection on practice and foster collaboration between differing individuals and organisations all with a common goal; to ensure that university-prison education partnerships are continually reviewed, shared and developed to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the individual.

The event was supported by the Scottish Centre for Crime & Justice Research (SCCJR), Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Edinburgh.

By Viki Soper

– Manager Student Support, Open University Scotland