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Recently, 200 students across the Psychology department attended the College’s annual Life Behind Bars conference. This thought-provoking event involves a group of guest speakers, all of whom are ex-offenders, visiting the College to talk openly about their experiences.

In the morning, the students gathered in the theatre to hear from each speaker. For A-level Psychology students, these talks form part of their studies for their criminal psychology unit in year two, particularly the “effects of imprisonment” topic. Applied Psychology students were also able to attend, and can link what they learnt to their units on mental health and issues in conducting research. During the day, the students were encouraged to discuss the role of prison and whether it is effective at rehabilitating offenders.

The students heard from Jake and Alex about their experiences of entering prison as young people, and the factors that they felt put them more at risk of falling into crime. Alex in particular spoke passionately about the influence that he felt his substance abuse, mental health, and (at the time) undiagnosed autism contributed to him “falling out” with the world around him and how that led to him being treated during his time in prison. They also heard from Jim, a “career criminal”, who first went to prison in his teens and progressed onto serial burglary and theft- most of which he said was for the thrill and excitement his home life wasn’t providing. The final speaker was a man who was convicted of murder after a drunken fight led to a man’s death and who served 12 years of a 99-year sentence. He talked about the impact that being “released on licence” has had on his life, work prospects, and mental health and relationships.

In the afternoon, the students broke out into smaller groups and spent time with each speaker, which gave them the opportunity to ask questions and receive honest, heartfelt answers about the impact their crimes have had on their lives.

Adam Davolls, Course Team Leader for Psychology, said “Life Behind Bars is one of the events that lots of students most look forward to, and everyone in the department enjoys the day. We have had the team visiting College for several years now, but every event brings a new surprise or piece of information, so the students always find it interesting and enjoyable. I hope the students were shocked by the twist in the tail of the morning session!”

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