Campus close-up: New network unlocks prisons research

Leeds Beckett researchers aim to maximise the impact of their knowledge

July 16, 2015
Prison Research Network launch: Nick Hardwick, Helen Nichols, Bill Davies
Source: Leeds Beckett University
(Left to right) Nick Hardwick, Helen Nichols and Bill Davies at the launch of the Prison Research Network

According to Bill Davies, senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, more than 150,000 people crowd into the UK’s prisons every year. But law-abiding academic researchers have often found themselves firmly locked out.

This is among the problems that Davies and co-founder Helen Nichols hope their fledgling Prison Research Network will overcome.

The network began last year when Davies and Nichols – also a senior lecturer in criminology – put out a call within Leeds Beckett for anyone with an interest in imprisonment or the social impact of prisons. According to Davies, the pair were “quite shocked” when 27 researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including sport science, physiotherapy, health promotion, speech and language therapy, architecture, history, law, sociology and psychology, got in touch.

Since then, the network has embraced another 22 members from beyond Leeds Beckett, including figures from the NHS, the third sector and the Prison Service itself, as well as other academics.

The idea, according to Nichols, is for the network to be a welcoming and ego-free forum for researchers to seek collaborators or access to prisons, and for service providers to suggest research avenues. She and Davies act as a “network consultancy”, putting those who email them in touch with the most appropriate people.

“It is about building relationships so research interaction is more frequent and easily accessible, because prison research is notoriously difficult in terms of access,” she says.

Although Davies – who is a former prisoner – says that his own experience of research within prisons has been “extremely positive” once access has been permitted, Nichols says that many prisons working to rectify issues raised in inspection reports have often not found researchers’ presence “convenient”, and have admitted them only when forced to by research commissioning bodies such as the National Offender Management Service.

“We want [prisons research] to be amicable and enjoyable,” she says. Nichols and Davies are to guest edit a forthcoming edition of the Prison Service’s in-house journal that highlights the network’s projects, and they hope to host yearly or even twice yearly events that will bring members together to “take stock of where we are and look at different projects”.

Another role of the network is to permit academics to embark on new research directions. An example is a midwife from another university who came to the network’s official launch event in April because she was interested in working on maternity within prisons.

“That is a classic example of somebody signing up who we didn’t know and would never have thought to invite,” Nichols says.

The keynote speaker at the launch event was Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. The presence of such a senior figure further validated Nichols’ sense that “we are doing something right and worthwhile”.

It is that sense that drives both researchers to dedicate significant amounts of their spare time to the network despite teaching and administrative commitments. Davies says that their bosses have been “very generous with their support” and he is confident that they will eventually negotiate more scheduled time to run the network, particularly if they are successful in any of the NOMS bids that they have recently put together – with the crucial help of network members – worth a combined total of £350,000.

Such projects could clearly boost the academics’ research profiles – and they also see the potential of involving their undergraduates. But they insist that their motivation is primarily about facilitating research more generally, and they are certainly not about to “jump on the bandwagon” when members suggest projects.

“I have no urge to be a professor and build my [research] profile,” Davies says. "[I’d like to] get the odd publication, and if we run it properly it won’t hurt my career, but I am certainly not in a position where I need to be jumping over people. I firmly believe universities have a moral obligation to support the communities they are in.”

Nichols agrees: “The whole philosophy of the network is about making the most of your knowledge, not just for academic reasons but to have real, genuine impacts. Otherwise it would seem like a bit of a waste of all those years at university.”

paul.jump@tesglobal.com


In numbers

27 – The number of researchers from various fields who contacted the Prison Research Network


Campus news

University of York
Government support for businesses could be worth as much as £180 billion a year, an academic has estimated. Kevin Farnsworth, of the University of York, found that in 2012-13, direct benefits to business were worth about £93 billion per year. Indirect benefits, such as wage subsidies and public healthcare, added up to £52 billion, and the 2008 bank bailouts added a further £35 billion. “A full debate about the ways in which corporate welfare is funded and delivered is long-overdue,” Dr Farnsworth said.

University of Hertfordshire
A university has opened an accident simulation centre so that its paramedic science students can practise their clinical and communication skills. The University of Hertfordshire’s School of Health and Social Work has launched the centre, where students manage a variety of road traffic collisions and similar events, including performing extrication of casualties.

Coventry University
Researchers have created an app, endorsed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to help protect young girls and women from female genital mutilation. The free-to-use app, developed by academics from Coventry University and funded by donations from charitable trusts, is the first of its kind in the UK. The app’s content includes information about FGM, personal stories from those who have been affected and tips on how to get involved in campaigning to end the practice.

University of Central Lancashire
This year’s Lancashire Science Festival attracted more than 10,000 people with exhibits that included lifelike animatronic dinosaurs, giant explosions and even a mind-controlled Scalextric track. The festival, hosted by the University of Central Lancashire, also included evening events on the science of cocktails and a late-night Heston Blumenthal-style dinner, in which a variety of scientific methods were used to cook and present different dishes.

Glyndwr University
A £50,000 fundraising appeal has been launched to support bursaries for students from poorer backgrounds hoping to study at Glyndwr University. The Wrexham institution plans to offer scholarships of £1,000 each to 50 students with strong potential who enrol in September. Within weeks of launching the campaign, £14,000 had already been raised. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and an honorary fellow of Glyndwr, is among those who have donated.

University of Stirling
Technology developed at the University of Stirling can detect radioactive particles deeper in the ground than was previously possible. Environmental and computer scientists have produced an algorithm that can more effectively separate potentially dangerous signals from benign natural ones. Used in handheld and mobile detection systems, it detects particles on average 10cm deeper into the ground compared with conventional systems, and at lower concentrations.

City University London
An academic’s performance of a modernist masterpiece has been hailed as the “greatest piano work of the 21st century”. Ian Pace, lecturer in music and head of performance at City University London, has been lauded by several critics for his five-and-a-half hour recital of Michael Finnissy’s “piano epic” The History of Photography in Sound. The Spectator’s Damian Thompson described the work as unsurpassed so far this century, while The Sunday Times called Pace and Finnissy “truly prodigious figures”.

Queen Mary University of London
A British university professor has received a top civil honour from the King of Spain. Trevor Dadson, professor of Hispanic studies at Queen Mary University of London, received the Order of Isabella the Catholic for his services to Spanish culture at a ceremony at the Spanish embassy in London. Professor Dadson, who is editor-in-chief of the Hispanic Research Journal, said that he was “immensely proud” to win the award.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: New network to unlock access for prison research

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest