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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Penal Politics (LAWS11215)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe overarching aim of the course is to enable students to understand, analyse and interpret the contemporary politics of punishment both in the UK and in a range of other countries. We aim to develop explanations for recent directions in penal politics, including the contending influences of populist discourses and expert knowledge. The course offers you the opportunity to study influences on penal policy and to apply this knowledge in a number of focused case studies. The course builds on a strong penological tradition at the University of Edinburgh School of Law and has a comparative emphasis throughout.
Course description Indicative content
Introduction - politics and the penal realm
Electoral politics and penality
Populism, penality and political culture
Scientific expertise, evidence and penal policy
Professional expertise, judgement and sentencing
Supra-national influences on penal policy
CASE 1: Mass incarceration in and beyond the US
CASE 2: Long term imprisonment in Europe
CASE 3: Prisoners' voting rights
Review and prognosis

Case studies can change from year to year in response to contemporary penal developments and to students' interests.

Seminars are delivered through structured discussions chaired by the course convenor or other course staff and involve active participation by course members.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesSome background in criminology, history, law or political science/policy studies/social policy is helpful.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  22
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Two essays, each of 2,500 words maximum.

1) Essay 1: One essay chosen from a short list of questions.
2) Essay 2: One academically-referenced analysis or advocacy essay
Feedback Feedforward is given to prepare students for the assignment two weeks after the release of essay titles. This focuses most strongly on the advocacy essay, which may involve new formats for writing for some students, but there is an open Q&A in relation to all aspects of assessment.

The three penultimate sessions require students to present an opening talk for the seminar. They receive full feedback on this by e-mail within one day of the class. Depending on the assignments the student will be undertaking across their degree in the second semester, this feedback will focus on structure, presentational skills, use of evidence and development of argument.

Full feedback is given on the two final assessments (1 & 2, above)

Feedback is given under the following headings:
Critical and conceptual analysis
Strength and cohesion of argument
Use of sources/evidence
Structure and organisation
Breadth and relevance of reading
Clarity of expression, presentation and referencing
General comments

Students are invited to discuss any feedback with the course convenor during advertised office hours or another mutually convenient time.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. A firm knowledge of the literature crossing criminology, political sociology and political science providing a broad understanding of how penal policy and practice is shaped
  2. The capacity to derive an analytical framework from literature and to apply it to provide a clear description and explanation or evaluation of penal policy
  3. The ability to present a short position paper in the field of penal politics in one of a number of styles (policy analysis, advocacy article, documentary script)
  4. The ability to formulate and present a coherent and evidenced argument in a limited written format
  5. The ability to give a short descriptive account of an area of study setting out the foundations for an extended group discussion
Reading List
Garland, D. (1990) Frameworks of inquiry in the sociology of punishment. British Journal of Sociology 41(1): 1-15.

Wacquant, L. (2008) Ordering insecurity: social polarization and the punitive upsurge. Radical Philosophy Review 11(1): 9-27.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Generic cognitive skills
Penal politics sits at the meeting point of criminology, law, political science and political sociology. Students develop the ability to operate across disciplinary boundaries, building up analytic and explanatory frameworks and applying these to contemporary problems of penal policy. Seminars based on a directed and structured discussion help students develop explanatory accounts of penal phenomenon, and provide a model for their own individual assessed work. Throughout, students are encouraged to think about the complex interweaving of multiple (and sometimes contradictory) causal and contextual factors.

Communication skills
Students are expected to communicate appropriately with peers and experts in seminars which are predominantly based around group discussions, and later in the semester, student presentations. High level communication skills are developed through the use of two different formats of writing in the final assessment.

Autonomy, accountability and working with others
Students develop autonomy through preparation for seminars and assessments where, beyond a core minimum, they are expected to direct their own reading, and define their approach to questions, selection of cases and examples. Group work in preparing for seminar presentations encourages the development of peer working, including the allocation and completion of tasks contributing to a group project.
Course organiserProf Richard Sparks
Tel: (0131 6)50 2059
Course secretaryMs Susanna Wickes
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