Prisons and Penality - The Current Issues Symposium
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“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the lives of prisoners, their families and those that work in prison. Wide scale lockdown with people held in cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day, as well as the suspension of family visits since March have placed an immense strain on prisoners and their loved ones during this unprecedented time." Prison Reform Trust 2020

For the prison service the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic came at time already shaped by other ongoing crises centred on rising rates of imprisonment, accompanied by dramatic cuts in public spending and staffing levels. Amidst these crises HMPPS continues to maintain that rehabilitation should be the core mission of the prison service. 

This symposium brings together academic criminologists and researchers, penal reformers, prison directors and practitioners, third sector agencies in the penal field and undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Plymouth to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic within prisons, on prisoners, their families and those who work in and provide vital support into the prison community.

We are delighted to confirm the following sessions for this one-day symposium.

Plenary 1: Prisons - the current challenges (09:45-12:00)

  • Professor Wendy Fitzgibbon (University of Leicester)
  • Dr David Scott (The Open University)
  • Matt Ford (Centre for Crime and Justice Studies)
  • Dr David Maguire (Prison Reform Trust)

This plenary will be followed by a Q&A session with the panel.

Plenary 2: The pains of imprisonment and innovative prison projects (13:00-16:00)

  • Patricia Gray (University of Plymouth)
  • Professor Joe Sim (Liverpool John Moores University)
  • Laura Polley (University of Suffolk)
  • Christine Kennedy (University of Plymouth)
  • Emily Atkins (Catch-22)
  • Lee Middleton (HMP Dartmoor)
  • Sarah Hocking (StandOut)

This plenary includes a Q&A session with the panel.

This event will be hosted fully online via Zoom. To register your place please use the link above and if you have any questions please contact 

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Today's events

Plenary 1 speakers

Professor Wendy Fitzgibbon

Wendy’s first career was in the probation service. Since completing her PhD she has worked at several universities and now works at the University of Leicester as a Reader in Criminology. With an orientation to the criminal justice area, Wendy has maintained a strong network among practitioners especially in the probation service and associated voluntary sector organisations, establishing forums enabling interchange between practitioners and academics. 

Her current areas of research are Comparative Probation/Penal studies, Privatisation and Criminal Justice, Risk Management and most recently Visual Criminology. She has used the innovative visual methodology, Photovoice, to explore offenders’ experiences of supervision. 

She is the author of Pre-emptive Criminalisation: Risk Control and Alternative Futures and Probation and Social Work on Trial. Her latest book is Privatising Justice: The Security Industry, War and Crime Control, co-authored with John Lea.

Dr David Scott 

David Scott, PhD, works at The Open University. He is a former co-ordinator of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control and is the co-founding editor of the international journal Justice, Power and Resistance. David has published widely on prisons and punishment and some of his most well-known books include Penology, Why Prison?, Controversial Issues in Prisons, Against Imprisonment and For Abolition. His latest book is the Routledge International Handbook of Penal Abolition.

He has debated widely on prisons and punishment in the mainstream media, including narrating the 2020 short BBC film Viewpoint: What would a world without prisons be like?  He won a number of national and international awards for his 2018 Open University film 'Grenfell Tower and Social Murder' and is the co-editor of the Penal Abolition and Transformative Justice book series for Routledge.

Plenary 2 speakers

Dr Patricia Gray

Patricia is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Law, Criminology and Government at the University of Plymouth. Formerly she was a Reader in Criminology and Criminal Justice. She was previously a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hong Kong before she joined the University of Plymouth. Patricia has researched and published widely in the areas of youth justice, imprisonment and penality. 

She is currently engaged in two research projects which address the interrelationship between punishment and political economy. The first maps and interrogates the restructuring of youth penality as part of the neoliberal socio-economic and political project. The second explores how the prevailing neoliberal penal culture impacts on the rehabilitation process in British prisons.

Sarah Hocking

Sarah graduated from the University of Plymouth in BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies in 2013. She is the Lead Coach and Development Manager for StandOut, a London-based charity which runs a four-week coaching course for people preparing to leave prison, followed by 1:1 support offered after release for as long as is required. In response to COVID-19, StandOut expanded to run a helpline offering practical support and coaching to more people leaving prison in London.  

Prior to this, Sarah worked at LandWorks, a resettlement charity in Devon that provides intensive placements for people in prison or at risk of going to prison. Alongside her university studies, Sarah volunteered with young people through Plymouth Youth Offending Team.

Professor Joe Sim

Joe is Professor of Criminology and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion at Liverpool John Moores University. He is the author of a number of texts on prisons including British Prisons (with Mike Fitzgerald), Prisons Under Protest (with Phil Scraton and Paula Skidmore), Medical Power in Prisons, and Punishment and Prisons

He is also a trustee of the charity INQUEST.

Laura Polley

Laura is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Suffolk. Her research area is broadly centred around the exploration of mental illness in prisons. Previously she worked as a Supervising Officer at HMP Wandsworth and supervised their in-patient Healthcare Unit. Laura is particularly concerned with prisoners’ experiences in custody when they hold an acute mental health diagnosis and her current PhD seeks to explore experiences of discrimination and stigma of this cohort. Laura has previously written policy for the Ministry of Justice discussing how prison officers and mental health professionals manage mental health in prisons. She has delivered a conference presentation exploring the effects of prison regimes on wellbeing with the aim of empowering prison staff to adopt therapeutic regimes within their own establishments. 

Laura supervises MSc level research projects by students on the Unlocked Graduate Scheme with data collection occurring within custodial settings.

Emily Atkins 

Emily has wanted to pursue a career in the criminal justice system from her young teens and studied BSc in Sociology and Criminology at Exeter University. She furthered her knowledge in these subjects by completing an MA in Sociology in 2019. In September that year, she landed her first job at HMP Exeter as a Resettlement Case Manager working for Catch 22, which involved supporting service users with their resettlement needs in time for their release from custody. She was fortunate enough to take part in and be the prison link person for the University of Plymouth Inside Knowledge Course in early 2020. 

Since then, she has secured her second job as a Court Probation Service Officer at the National Probation Service for Exeter/Torbay. In the long term, her goal is to become a detective and believes that the experience gained from university, working at HMP Exeter and from her new role at the National Probation Service will place her in good stead to achieve this.

Christine Kennedy

Christine is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Plymouth. She has been module leader for the Stage 2 undergraduate module “Inside Knowledge” run in collaboration with HMP Exeter since 2018. On the dialogue-based module, University students and HMP Exeter learners explore issues such as; prisons under neoliberalism, the changing nature of crime and criminal markets in a global age, the evolution of drugs and drugs markets in the 21st century, consumer culture and socio-economic inequality. Christine also worked as a research assistant on the project “Dartmoor Dialogues: An Exploration of HMP Dartmoor’s Journey towards becoming an Integrated Prison Underpinned by Restorative Practices 30 June 2020”. 

She is currently completing a PhD in Consumer Culture and the Online Interactions of Minors.

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