How will these resources help you? 

The ethics of criminal justice is a popular topic in Key Stages 4 and 5, and when framed rightly, it can also provoke interesting discussions in younger year groups. Students are usually familiar with the portrayal of crime and justice in the media and popular culture and bring to the debate both pre-existing opinions and varyingly accurate preconceptions about crime rates and types of punishment. These resources focus on prisons and the ethics of prisons as a punishment from religious and non-religious perspectives. They also offer some challenging and occasionally controversial arguments, balanced with thought-provoking case studies and a healthy dose of realism. I find students love this topic and become intrigued with offenders' rights and whether or not our rights can or should be considered inviolable. They also enjoy thinking about what prison should look like as a punishment and who it is really for. 

Challenging the way prisons work

Justice on Trial: Radical Solutions for a System at Breaking Point

by Chris Daw, published by Bloomsbury Continuum, (2021), 9781472977854

Barrister Chris Daw discusses the purpose and current situation of prisons, focusing on the UK, and argues that custodial sentences are currently failing to serve their purpose and criminalising and dehumanising people and leading to serious harm. He argues systematically that most types of crime would be better served with a non-custodial sentence and that we need to re-think our entire model of prisons and custody. His arguments for not criminalising children and young people lead to interesting discussions among my students and raise the question of at what point we can or should bear criminal responsibility. 

An academic perspective on practical sentencing

What Works in Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation: Lessons from Systematic Reviews

by David Weisburd, David Farrington and Charlotte Gill, published by Springer, (2016), 9781493974887

Each chapter in this book is written by an expert in the field. The most relevant to prisons is ‘Correctional Programs’ by American criminologist David Wilson, which examines the purpose and effectiveness of custodial sentences.

Religion and sentencing

More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More

by Byron R. Johnson, published by Templeton Press, (2011), 9781599473949

American Christian criminologist Byron Johnson argues that faith promotes pro-social behaviour. He uses a series of case studies to demonstrate that religious-based prison programmes, alternatives to prison, or crime prevention measures are often among the most successful. He describes the spiritually transformative role of faith and the sense of community and purpose that it can engender. Students can look at this critically in the context of other faith-based prison initiatives with a social purpose, such as prison chaplaincy in the UK.

A human rights perspective

Preventive Justice

by Andrew Ashworth and Lucia Zedner, published by Oxford University Press, (2015), 9780198712534

This book examines the history and ethical justification of justice based on prevention. Inevitably this focuses a lot on deterrence as a purpose of punishment, but it also looks at the purpose, morality and effectiveness of custodial sentences. The authors look at how custodial sentences can restrict people’s human rights. I tend to give my students selected quotes to discuss and enhance their learning, as the book itself might be hard going for some. 

Audiovisual clip

The Compass: Is this a ‘luxury prison’?

published by BBC, (2018)

A look at Halden Prison in Norway.

Further Materials

Prison: how to break the cycle of reoffending?, published by The Economist, (2015) Watch this clip
'I went from prisoner to PhD', published by BBC Ideas, in partnership with the Open University, (2020) Watch this video
Penal Reform International, published by PRI Visit this website
Susan Woodshore is a teacher in Edinburgh. She has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History and enjoys creating new educational resources across religion, ethics and philosophy.

Text © Susan Woodshore, 2023.