‘Educating Criminals’ Site Goes Live

Hello! I’m Rosalind Crone and I’m a senior lecturer in history at the Open University. This website is the ‘shopfront’ for my AHRC-funded project, ‘Educating Criminals in Nineteenth-Century England’.

I have been interested in and actively researching the measurement of prisoner literacy and schemes of prisoner education in nineteenth-century England since 2008. For most of the past seven years I have focused on case studies of particular gaols or penal institutions, publishing the results of that research in a number of discrete articles and chapters (see ‘publications’ for details). However, it became increasingly apparent that what was really needed, in order to understand the role of prison education in the evolution of the modern penal regime, was a book-length treatment that included both a national survey of prison education in the nineteenth-century (when and where these schemes emerged) and a detailed look at the types of methods or pedagogies employed in different institutions.

An exciting idea, but no easy task. The nineteenth-century penal regime comprised a variety of institutions (prisons, including bridewells, common gaols, houses of correction, penitentiaries, and public works prisons, hulks, and convict ships), was two-tiered (convicts serving longer sentences were sent to national penitentiaries, public works prisons and dispatched to Australia on convict ships while felons and misdemeanants on shorter sentences were confined in local gaols), and largely decentralised (while convict institutions were under the control of the central government at Westminster for most of the century local gaols remained in the hands of the local authorities). These three elements combined created a penal system in which practice in individual institutions differed substantially. Longer term, the consequence for scholarship has been that criminal justice historians have typically either focused on specific types of institutions (for example, penitentiaries or convict ships) or produced case studies of individual prisons. Schemes of prisoner education have, at best, appeared as a brief reference in these histories. Not only does the nature of the nineteenth-century penal regime make it impossible to generalise about prisoner education from the experience of particular institutions, but the continued presence and even expansion of such schemes has the potential to reshape our understanding of the evolution of that penal regime, perhaps challenging the dominant reform-to-punish narrative of penal philosophy and practice.

So, in 2013 I applied to the AHRC for an Early Career Fellowship to help me finish the research and write the big book on prison education in nineteenth-century England – they liked the idea, and in May 2015 I officially began the project. Over the next couple years, I’ll be doing more than just research and book writing – I’ll be collaborating with colleagues from other universities doing similar research; with the help of two research assistants I’ll be putting together a finding aid on resources for the nineteenth-century prison; I’ll be organising an event on prison education in the past and present; and I’ll be talking to lots of different people who work in present-day prison education or who are interested in prison education in the past (or even just in the sources I’m using). I plan to use this website to keep a record of my activities and as a means to engage with a wider community of interested people.

Thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in this project, please do get in touch with me.

Back to the Future?

Great Expectations for Prison Education

Conference on Defining Prison Education, June 2016

What is ‘prison education’?

‘Educating Criminals’ Site Goes Live

The Prison and Literacy in 19th Century England

Contact the Research Team