University-Prison Engagement in Scotland

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 251 (University of Glasgow)
Sarah Armstrong , Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow
Louise Brangan , Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh
John McGhee , University of Dundee
The paper is based on and written by those involved in academic reading groups meeting in prison in Scotland. In these, university and imprisoned students meet in prisons and discuss journal articles and books in philosophy, arts and social sciences on a peer led basis. This activity places universities inside prisons, creating a space within a space, where the university institution locks out the prison institution within the prison’s own walls. The experiences of reading group members inform the paper’s description and analysis is organised using the overarching concept of borders. Personal, professional and institutional borders were transcended and transgressed through the creation of a genuine group rapport and identity. Prison-based members were enclosed and bounded in a university setting through the reading groups, creating a border that to some extent could keep out the prison while incarcerated. University-based members altered the space and understanding of their own learning, expanding the boundaries of this to encompass prison, not as a  site for research on others, but a place of intellectual communion with others. However, the reading groups also highlighted the entrenched and penetrating nature of institutional borders on both sides, with universities and prisons seeking to re-assert their traditional roles and constituencies. Both the empowering and disempowering dynamics of this specific university-prison engagement will be discussed, with particular attention paid to how reading groups gave space and led to subsequent opportunities for those confined to pass on knowledge on our own terms, not having our experiences made sense of and described on by others.