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LAWS3074 Penal Policy

Module Overview

England and Wales now imprisons a greater proportion of its population than any other country in Western Europe, the population in custody having doubled in 12 years. Yet the prison population continues to grow. The Labour Government (1997-2010) hyperactively criminalised more and more activity and curbed civil liberties in an effort to secure more convictions. Yet the public’s – and the media’s – appetite for more punishment and less liberty – at least for ‘the criminal’ – was perceived to be insatiable and the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, the central government departments charged with responsibility for penal (and wider criminal justice) policy appeared to be in a perpetual state of crisis. There were early signs that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government (2010-2015) could usher in a new era of more moderate penal policy, in part driven by a wish to cut public spending, but the impact of the riots in a number of English cities in the summer of 2011, and the replacement of Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary in September 2012 with the more hard-line Chris Grayling, led to a return to a harder law and order politics once-more. It remains to be seen what the direction of travel will be for penal policy under the majority Conservative Government elected in 2015. This module seeks to cast a spotlight on this troublesome area of law and public policy. It draws upon literature from law, criminology, history, political science and some comparative material to ask where our contemporary penal policy comes from and to speculate on possible futures.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module seeks to cast a spotlight on this troublesome area of law and public policy

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Selected key issues in contemporary English Penal Policy
  • The activities within and beyond the formal processes of government that shape penal policy
  • The diverse, sociological influences and competing ideologies that shape penal policy
  • Selected theoretical frameworks which seek to explain recent penal policy transformation
  • Some key historical and international comparisons to the contemporary English approach to penal policy
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate selected key issues in contemporary English Penal Policy
  • Assess a recent example of penal policy in terms of the activities within and beyond the formal processes of government that shaped its development
  • Assess a recent example of penal policy in terms of the diverse, sociological influences and competing ideologies that shaped its development
  • Critically evaluate the capacity of selected theoretical frameworks to adequately explain recent penal policy developments
  • Critically compare selected key issues in contemporary English penal policy to historical and international comparators
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate others’ arguments
  • Develop and present a written argument with appropriate evidence
  • Effectively research, organise and manage an independent project using available primary and secondary, electronic and paper sources
  • Evaluate the material obtained from primary and secondary, electronic and paper sources
  • Engage in effective policy analysis

Syllabus

The module will begin with a session exploring questions fundamental to the module as a whole in an introductory fashion. Such questions include: what is policy? What is ‘penal’ policy? What are the direct sources of penal policy? What indirect sources are there? What are the key influences on the direction of penal policy? Is there an ‘ideal’ way in which penal policy ought to be made in a liberal democracy? A systematic method of reading and evaluating theoretical and policy texts (developed by the module co-ordinator) will also be introduced. In the next few sessions an in-depth study of a particularly important work in the field will be undertaken(David Garland’s ‘Culture of Control’). The text was selected as an exemplar of a particular theoretical approach to the analysis of penal policy and because it addresses the most pressing contemporary questions in the field (what explains the collapse of faith in the ‘rehabilitative ideal’ and the emergence of a new more punitive penal policy and more populist policy making processes). The book will be studied over three seminars to give you the opportunity to engage in a deeper critical engagement with the text than would otherwise be possible. There will follows a number of sessions exploring alternative theoretical perspectives for studying the penal policy making process and then some historical and international comparisons will be explored. In the last few weeks of the module a number of case studies of contemporary penal policy making ‘episodes’ will be undertaken (encouraging you to apply the theoretical frameworks studied in the preceding weeks).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught be way of a weekly 2 hour seminar. The main emphasis will be on deep engagement with texts and policy materials through class discussion. Frequent use will be made of ‘buzz groups’ in the class to stimulate discussion. The module will start with an intensive close study of a paradigm shifting monograph. This case study will introduce you to key concepts and analytical techniques in an applied context. The formative assignment from the module will flow directly from this introductory study requiring you to produce a book review of the text.’ The module will then broaden its coverage to a number of alternative perspectives, look at some historical and international comparators before concluding with sessions which will encourage you to apply the analytical techniques you have learned to recent examples of penal policy development. The emphasis throughout will be on doing rather than simply knowing.

TypeHours
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Completion of assessment task50
Seminar20
Wider reading or practice20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

David Garland (2001). The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. 

Assessment

Formative

Set exercises - non-exam

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%

Repeat

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%
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