The British Journal of Criminology Newsletter piece provides some context of Mountjoy Prison before discussing the partnership between Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University (Ireland) and its instigation of the complementary Unlocking Potential Project (UPP).
The school-to-prison pipeline is well-rehearsed in penological literature (Bacher-Hicks, 2021). Pathways from prison to university are less developed but are constructive steps toward profound positive changes for individuals and society (Ludlow et al., 2019; O’Grady and Hamilton, 2019).
Maynooth University Mountjoy Prison Partnership
In 2019, Maynooth University and Mountjoy Prison came together to establish Ireland’s first university-prison partnership. The MJMU Partnership aims to harness the transformative power of education to promote access to higher education and support the reintegration of prisoners and former prisoners in society. We support the engagement of the university with the prison through a range of educational activities and the creation of shared learning spaces for students in prison and students in university.
Building on the great work which has already been taking place between the university and Mountjoy, the partnership provides strategic direction and support for a range of new initiatives, some of which are detailed below. Supported by the Public Service Innovation Fund 2019, the MJMU Partnership was launched on 19 April 2021 with Minister Simon Harris TD (Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and currently Acting Minster for Justice) attending to provide his department's endorsement of the partnership.
The programme of initiatives within the partnership are numerous so for the sake of brevity, two of particular note will be elaborated on here: the ‘Story Exchange’ (see a short film here) and the ‘Mountjoy Lecture Series’.
The Unlocking Potential Project
The Unlocking Potential Project (UPP) brought together a consortium of six partners: MU Access Programme, MU School of Law and Criminology, Irish Prison Service, (Irish) Probation Service, Pathways Centre (City of Dublin ETB), and the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT). Drawing inspiration from recent developments in the UK including the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UK) ‘Criminal Convictions: Good Practice Guide’ and the Unlock UK ‘Fair Chance Pledge’, the UPP seeks to build on these to further remove barriers by implementing the innovative fair admissions policy facilitated by the toolkit developed for all higher education institutions (HEIs). The UPP aims to make higher education more accessible for people in prison and those in the community with convictions and in doing so to support their reintegration into society. It also aims to support HEI staff to unlock the potential of students with convictions and ensure the transformative power of education is accessible to all.
The UPP developed a suite of resources for higher education staff interested in developing a fair admissions policy, as well as information and resources for prospective students regarding accessing third-level education available at www.unlockpotential.ie.
The next phase of the UPP includes an ongoing empirical project by Dr Joe Garrihy and Dr Ciara Bracken-Roche which was awarded funding from the Irish Research Council New Foundations Fund 2022. The study examines the attitudes and experiences of higher education staff and those with criminal convictions in Ireland while analysing perceptions of risk in policy and practice. In a parallel study by the same team, the employers’ policies and practices regarding people with convictions are being examined. These complementary studies will further the aims and broaden the scope and future integrations of the MJMU Partnership and the UPP respectively. The first project is in partnership with the IPRT while the latter is funded by the IPRT, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Open Doors Initiative.
While the principle of prison being a last resort requires constant assertion and implementation, the MJMU Partnership and the UPP projects demonstrate the opportunities to collaboratively ameliorate prison conditions to build positive pathways for those imprisoned or with a history of contact with the criminal justice system.
Collaborators (listed alphabetically)
- Dr Ciara Bracken Roche, Dr Joe Garrihy, Prof Claire Hamilton, Dr Ian D Marder (MU School of Law and Criminology)
- Prof Aislinn O'Donnell, Dr Seamus Taylor (MU Department of Education)
- Ms Martha Brandes, Ms Grace Edge (2019-2021), Ms Gemma Lynch, Dr Rose Ryan, Dr Sarah Sartori (MU Access Programme)
- Gov Edward Mullins, Gov Donnacha Walsh (ret) (Irish Prison Service, Mountjoy Prison)
- Irish Penal Reform Trust, Irish Prison Service, Our Public Sector, The Pathways Centre (City of Dublin ETB), Probation Service