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University of Leeds

Incarceration: Are Prisons a Suitable Punishment?

University of Leeds via FutureLearn


Explore the ethics of imprisonment and identify prison alternatives

England and Wales have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe. Almost a quarter of these prisoners are held in overcrowded prisons. On this course, you will take a look inside the prisons of England and Wales.

You will consider the role of imprisonment as a form of punishment, and hear from ex-prisoners about their experience of being incarcerated. Through case studies, you will explore the challenges faced by the current prison system. You will identify alternative methods of punishment and rehabilitation, and learn about the debates that exist within the criminal justice system.

This course has been ranked as one of the best online courses of all time by online course aggregator class central.

This course is for anyone looking to investigate whether prisons are a suitable punishment for offenders.

The course will be useful for professionals such as social workers, probation officers, and anyone that supports prisoners.

This course is also useful for learners interested in studying criminology or related disciplines at undergraduate or postgraduate level.


  • Justice as Punishment
    • Welcome
    • Does breaking the law always result in prison?
    • The prison system: problems and solutions
    • The experience of imprisonment
    • Summary
  • Justice as an agent for reform
    • About week 2
    • 'Going straight' – rehabilitation and resettlement
    • Alternatives to custody
    • How should offenders be punished?
    • Summary

Taught by

Richard Peake


4.7 rating, based on 120 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at FutureLearn based on 162 ratings

Start your review of Incarceration: Are Prisons a Suitable Punishment?

  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed the course. Particularly the amount of videos and interactive tasks (such as polls and places to post opinions) that there were to complete as it wasn't just reading articles, which made it very engaging. It also provided many ins…
  • Anonymous
    This course is comprehensive and ideal for both law students and people with no prior background in law. It really got me to rethink incarceration.
  • Anonymous
    This course covers material which many people may believe they are familiar with through media reports, documentaries and the news. This course breaks down familiar preconceptions, and explains what is legal, possible and ethical, and explains the barriers to the achievement of goals within the prison system. It also looks in detail at alternatives to prison, examining their aims, applicability and outcomes. All this is done through a mixture of articles, exercises and quizzes, all of which are engaging and interesting. This is a very accessible and worthwhile course, which I enjoyed and am happy to recommend.
  • Anonymous
    I am a magistrate and have thoroughly enjoyed the course, though I didn't take part fully by writing papers or discussions with other learners. I thought the format of the course was excellent and that Richard Peake was very good at interviewing people so that the videos were always interesting and ot-the-point. Polls, exercises and quizzes were relevant and useful. This is one of the very best of the Future Learn courses.
  • Anonymous
    I speak on prison and gang culture in schools so was already aware of some of this framework before starting, but it truly opened my eyes and taught me a lot. A really interesting and varied course. I particularly like the use of visuals and interac…
  • Anonymous
    I would highly recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in topics revolving sociology or criminology. It has a lot of good information, videos and includes a wide range interactive quizzes and polls. It's easy to understand and is very inclusive in who is able to do it. I would say that if you're unsure on whether or not to do this course, to just go for it.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course. It gives insight into the judicial system, why and how people are incarcerated and what alternatives are available. Prison overcrowding would not be such an issue if many of these alternatives were used more widely - cost effective too.
    Anybody who is thinking of further studying in criminology would find this a great course to use to give them a taster.
    It did take me longer than the stated 6 hours a week but then I was fascinated and spent more time going through the optional resource websites etc.,
    As usual O.U. courses are very easy to negotiate and very informative.
  • Anonymous
    This really was thought provoking and I am grateful it was made available. I found the interviews with the former prisoners particularly interesting, and these particularly challenged my understanding of the rehabilitation of offenders. I am certainly reading crime reports in my local paper in a different way now.
  • Anonymous
    I have just finished this course and felt the need to review it to not only express my gratitude but also recommend it to anyone on the fence. Having studied and really enjoyed the topic of incarceration and punishment in an A-Level Sociology module…
  • Anonymous
    I have worked in prison for over 15 years and have a good understanding of what goes on behind the gates. I was recommended this course by a colleague and it did not disappoint. Richard's discussions with various people who have great knowledge and…
  • Anonymous
    This course was pleasingly in-depth for an introduction and I particularly appreciated the extra learning resources and references provided for further reading.
  • Anonymous
    I studied this short course purely out of interest and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it thought provoking and very interesting. \i live in an area with several prisons locally but like many members of the general public I didn't really consider their use or alternatives to incarceration. I am glad I have completed the course as it made me more open to considering the offender as well as the victim of crime and what punishment would perhaps be the most suitable in a variety of situations.
    The information provided was good and interesting and further references were given for more detailed study. The interviews were very interesting and the scenarios insightful.
  • Anonymous
    Interesting, helpful, well researched, good structure. As a student of law of a different country, I found really interesting to see and compare different legal systems and see the differences among them.
  • Anonymous
    Very well structured and interesting course. We looked at theories behind why we punish; we explored the various range of punishment alternatives from Prison such as non custodial sanctions and their effects long term. We also looked at and reflect…
  • Anonymous
    I loved completing this course. I have a real interest in Criminology but also learning in general. I think this course I brilliant for absolutely anyone who has an interest in this topic. It also teaches you a great deal on the way the justice system works and on the benefits of non-custodial sentences (I didn’t know what that meant before starting the course :/!!) It was very interesting and my opinions have changed from when I started and to when I finished. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars was because I wanted to take part in the assessment but it wasn’t available because of the need to pay or upgrade and as I’m only a student I couldn’t afford it. But other than that it was brilliant, thank you.
  • Anonymous
    I am an Official Prison Visitor currently visiting an offender in the high security estate in the north of England. This has been an interesting overview of the criminal justice system, and I have enjoyed both the video interviews and supportive in-depth reading. There has been a huge amount of supplementary reading available making the task of covering everything in the two weeks a fair challenge. Just a shame now, that with the current coronavirus lockdown, and suspension of visiting, in at least my prison, I am unable to see my guy and "chew the fat" about it - which he is willing to do. Thanks to all for the preparation of this material for interested participants.
  • Anonymous
    In my time I have been a volunteer prison visitor for the Probation Service, a Jobcentre worker and a careers adviser. The first week unfortunately taught me that prison conditions have not really improved in the past 40 years and my original view that it should be avoided where possible still holds.
    The second week was enjoyable because it focussed on alternatives to prison. Working in Jobcentres and careers offices have shown me just how hard it is for ex-offenders to get a break.

    I thought the course was well-constructed and involved a good mix of videos, exercises and articles. I do have a bit of prior knowledge and I think this course added to my perspective,
  • Anonymous
    Firstly i want to thank to Richard Peake for let me join this course even though i can't afford the upgrade. I'm from Argentina and dollars aren't only limited if not very expensive.

    I was keen on this course because it is a topic which really worry me as i would love to have the chance to work on this topic (i have recently graduate in Law) About the couse i'm enjoying so much because i have the chance to talk with some of my mates and learn about the conditions of imprisonment in other countries also i found a lot of very interesting information and possible solutions. I would like to have a space in each weekor at the end to make questions to the lead educator.
  • Anonymous
    I had little knowledge and no personal experience of prisons before starting this course. I now have grasp of the main issues relating to the ethics, practices and community expectations of the legal and prison system, many of them common to all cultures and even in historical times. I would have liked the course to focus more on the people who work in prisons, their motivation, training, work experience, rewards and challenges and how they are perceived by family, friends and the community generally. What I have gleaned from this course Is that it is the people, who interact with offenders, who ultimately determine the effectiveness and humanity of the system.

    Tom Dobinson
  • Anonymous
    Found the lessons quite practical. The facilitators had an in depth knowledge and mastery of the lessons taught.

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