In March 2017, students who were taking part in Villiers Park Education Trust’s ‘Inspiring Excellence’ law access to university programme, joined students who are currently resident in HMP Peterborough to study a short course about ‘Power and criminal justice’. Together, they explored legitimacy theory, the law on the right to silence, and the law and practice of criminal justice supervision and licence conditions in the community.
One of the students, Hannah, wrote the following reflections about her experiences:
For me the Learning Together in Peterborough was completely eye opening and different – not like anything I had done before. I went in with certain expectations and stereotypes, many of which were not in fact true. The thing that was most striking for me was that anyone could look into that room and find it hard to distinguish who was a Villier’s Park student and who was a Peterborough student. I was also really pleased to see the enthusiasm of many of the students I met. Many had similar ideas and questions to my own. Admittedly, I went in with the belief the Peterborough students would not be as engaged as we were but that was proved wrong – everyone contributed, and sometimes I felt that I was learning far more from the Peterborough students than they were learning from me.
Before learning together with people who are in prison, I had always believed in rehabilitation as the central aim of a good criminal justice system, though I was sceptical about how relevant or useful education could be for people in prison. I was unsure whether people in prison would care about getting an education and I had the impression that people in prison were unlikely to be capable of studying at higher education level. Now, having had a shared learning experience, I see how helpful education can be in enabling people to build lives that are free of crime. I can also see how helpful it is for all of us who want to learn, that we have opportunities to study collaboratively and in dialogue with people from all different backgrounds.
Learning Together in Peterborough gave me the chance to meet people, and put faces and warm personalities to them, which challenged the ‘hard criminal’ images that I had absorbed from the media. I came away from the experience feeling quite emotional and even somewhat guilty for just being able to go home. I saw just as much potential in the students I met living in Peterborough as the students I met on the course at Villiers Park. Yes, I met people who had committed criminal offences, but I also met people who were not just the worst thing they had ever done in their life. I met people who had talents and potential, and people who could change and move towards more positive things.