LLM Programme

The taught modules offered on the LLM programme vary from year to year. Please check the full list of taught modules list for details of modules running in specific academic years. We make every effort to ensure that every module will be offered, but modules are subject to change and cancellation. You are therefore advised to check this site regularly for further updates throughout the year preceding entry to the LLM programme.

Credit value: 15 credits (6 ECTS)
Module Convenor:
Mr James Dixon
Other Teachers:
Ms Claire Van Overdijk, barrister specialising in prison law
Intercollegiate teaching: No
Teaching Method: 10 x two-hour seminars
Who may enrol: LLM students, Other UCL Masters students
Prerequisites: None
Barred module combinations: None
Core module for specialism: Criminal Justice, Family and Social Welfare; Public Law
Practice Assessment: to be confirmed
Assessment method for Masters students: 3,000 word coursework essay
Module Overview

Module summary

Despite a generally declining rate of crime the prison population in England and Wales has risen dramatically over the last ten years and now stands at an unprecedented level for both men and women. We lock up more people per head of population than virtually all our Western European neighbours but significantly fewer than the United States. Nonetheless mass incarceration, whilst initiated earlier in the U.S., has occurred in a number of European countries. In England and Wales the growth in numbers is due primarily to a shift in the sentencing practices of both the magistrates’ and Crown courts: the courts more frequently resorting to custodial sentences as well as imposing longer periods in custody. The increasing reliance on the prison across a number of western democracies, together with its social and fiscal costs, underlines the importance of penal policy and the need for a critical examination of the modern prison. This module aims to examine the roles that the contemporary prison plays in the criminal justice system and to explore emerging trends in response to the current fiscal crisis. It will consider key theoretical perspectives that have been used to understand the purpose of imprisonment and legitimise its operation in different historical and cultural contexts; and will critically examine prison governance, law and policy, their theoretical foundations and political construction, in the light of modern research evidence. We then examine in depth a number of contemporary policy debates including prisoners’ rights; the imprisonment of women; life sentence prisoners and deaths in prison. Whilst the module will focus largely on prisons in England and Wales we encourage participants to take the opportunity to compare prison systems from other jurisdictions.

Module syllabus

The Structure of Imprisonment: Issues of Power and Legitimacy
1. Introduction: Overview of the Prison System and Mass Incarceration
2. The Ideology of Imprisonment
3. Prisons Policy
4. Prison Governance
5. Prisons’ Accountability and Prisoners’ Rights

The Experience of Imprisonment: Issues of Equality and Legitimacy
6. Women's Prisons
7. Life sentence prisoners
8. Deaths in Prison
9. Visit to HMP Brixton or other London prison
10. Overview & Essay guidance

Recommended materials

Currently: Jewkes, Y. (ed) (2007) Handbook on Prisons Cullompton, Willan

Preliminary reading

Students might wish to look at either or both of the following over the summer:

Jewkes, Y. & Johnston, H. (eds) (2006) Prison Readings: A Critical Introduction to Prisons and Imprisonment Cullompton: Willan

Scott, D. & Codd, H. (2010) Controversial Issues in Prisons Open University Press, Milton Keynes

Other information

Method of Instruction: power point lecture presentation with plenty of opportunity for questions and comments, followed by focussed debate and discussion of salient issues.

Prizes for this module: There are currently no prizes available for this module.


The application process for the 2014-15 academic session, for entry in September 2014, is now open.

Please refer to the How to apply section for information on the application process.