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SP30363: Incarceration

[Page last updated: 04 August 2021]

Academic Year: 2021/2
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 6 [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 120
Level: Honours (FHEQ level 6)
Semester 2
Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Assessment detail for this unit will be available shortly. (CW 100%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Aims: This unit aims to explore the social, political, cultural, theoretical and legal issues raised by the incarceration of offenders. It is concerned with the State's power to use coercive force, punish, and deprive people of their liberty, and the extent to which the nature, use and form of custodial institutions is shaped by wider political, policy and social change. In addition, the unit considers the lived experience, sociological dimensions and cultural aspects of custodial institutions. The main focus of the unit will be prisons, but several other forms of incarceration will be discussed including police custody, court cells, youth custody, secure hospitals and immigration detention centres.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this unit students will be able to:
1. Discuss and analyse a range of different forms of incarceration, understanding the similarities and differences between them;
2. Assess the key drivers behind mass incarceration and the growth of the prison complex;
3. Assess the differential 'effects' and impacts of incarceration on different demographic/population groups;
4. Use and critically evaluate academic prison studies in written work;
5. Recognise and marshal the main arguments for reform and discuss the differences between reform and abolition.

* Critically evaluating contemporary debates and representations of prisons/prisoners/prison staff in the media and in policy and political debates
* Identify and critically evaluate key theories and concepts in prison scholarship
* Interrogating the available evidence and texts to critically evaluate a range of contemporary issues and debates relating to imprisonment
* Independent research skills - identifying and locating a range of relevant sources, including policy papers, interest group publications, statistical data, academic texts, Parliamentary papers and legislation
* Critical reading skills
* Critical analysis and independent thought
* Thinking creatively, including thinking about policy and practice reforms
* Writing skills - communicating clearly and concisely
* Developing and constructing a persuasive argument.

Content: The content will depend on available teaching expertise, but is likely to include topics such as:
1. The growth and privatisation of the custodial complex;
2. The shared characteristics of institutional confinement in 'total institutions';
3. Designing custodial institutions for punishment and rehabilitation;
4. The 'pains of Imprisonment';
5. The experiences of specific cohorts (e.g. children, women, sex offenders, older prisoners, black and ethnic minority people);
6. Long and indeterminate sentences (including life without parole and long-term survival);
7. Deaths in custody
8. Contemporary issues in incarceration.

Programme availability:

SP30363 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • UHSP-AFB22 : BSc(Hons) Criminology (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AFB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2021/22 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2022/23 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2021/22.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.