• University of Leeds

Incarceration: Are Prisons a Suitable Punishment?

Explore life inside UK prisons. Learn whether this type of punishment reduces crime and if rehabilitation can prevent reoffending.

17,060 enrolled on this course

Incarceration: Are Prisons a Suitable Punishment?

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.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Richard: England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe. Around 70% of people who were sent to prison have committed a non-violent offence. Nearly a quarter of the prison population are held in overcrowded prisons while other forms of punishments, like community sentences, have nearly halved since 2006. This online course looks inside the prisons in England and Wales and takes you on a journey that will challenge your understanding of imprisonment. You will understand the role of imprisonment as a mechanism of punishment, hear from ex-prisoners who will describe their experience of being incarcerated, and understand the challenges the current prison system faces.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Through stimulating case studies, you will explore alternative ways of punishment, rehabilitation, and understand the debates within the criminal justice system and criminology. I’m Doctor Richard Peake, and I’m passionate about prisons and all forms of punishment and improving outcomes to prisoners and society. Join this course, Questioning the Prison System in England and Wales, today.


  • Week 1

    Justice as Punishment

    • Welcome

      Welcome to Incarceration: Are prisons a suitable punishment? This course explores the role of justice in both punishing and rehabilitating those who break the law.

    • Does breaking the law always result in prison?

      In this activity, you will consider why we punish and the ethical implications of different forms of punishment.

    • The prison system: problems and solutions

      In this activity you explore the prison environment itself and learn how current conditions compare to the aims and intentions of custody. This will help you think critically about what might solve some of the issues highlighted.

    • The experience of imprisonment

      This activity looks at how ethical the treatment of prisoners is and considers the prison experience. You will critically compare some of the harsher prison environments with some seemingly more lenient prison regimes.

    • Summary

      To close this week of the course, you will have the opportunity to reflect on the week and explore the glossary.

  • Week 2

    Justice as an agent for reform

    • About week 2

      This week, you consider the alternatives to imprisonment. Using examples, you will consider whether non-custodial sanctions may be ethically more justifiable, and have a less detrimental effect on the offender longer term.

    • 'Going straight' – rehabilitation and resettlement

      In this activity, you will consider what can be done to support offenders to help them desist from crime, both whilst they are incarcerated and as they leave prison, to help them desist from crime.

    • Alternatives to custody

      Prison may be the default sanction, but there may be more effective ways of punishing less serious offences. Custody is the most serious sanction, but is this appropriate for all crimes?

    • How should offenders be punished?

      This activity continues to explore how judges and magistrates select an appropriate sentence. You will look at the practical and ethical implications of different punishments and assess the best outcomes.

    • Summary

      In this final activity, you have the opportunity to reflect on your learning before completing the end of course test.

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

This course has been accredited by the CPD Certification Service, which means it can be used to provide evidence of your continuing professional development.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the role of imprisonment as a mechanism of punishment, its legitimacy and ethical standpoint and identify its aims.
  • Discuss how prisoners should be treated and what ethical considerations should be considered in deciding physical conditions of custody.
  • Identify issues within the prison system, including overcrowding, drug misuse and safety.
  • Compare different prison systems and evaluate which might be most effective and the most ethically sound.
  • Explain the concept of rehabilitation in both changing the individual and its wider role of crime reduction.
  • Explore alternative punishments to imprisonment, their effectiveness and discuss if these are ethically more acceptable than custody.
  • Reflect on how custody and alternative forms of punishment are utilised with the overall aim of reducing crime.

Who is the course for?

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.

Who will you learn with?

After serving 23 years in the RAF, I gained a 1st class degree in Criminology, before completing a PhD and have been a lecturer in Criminology & Criminal Justice at Leeds University since 2006.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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