module specification

PY7009 - Psychology and the Penal System (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18, but may be subject to modification
Module title Psychology and the Penal System
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 10
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 100
24 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
76 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 100% 50 Professional Report *FC*
Attendance Requirement 0%   Attendance
Running in 2017/18 No instances running in the year

Module summary

N.B. from 2012-13 this module will be taight at the Holloway Road building.


This module is primarily intended for those students who wish to further their knowledge of the theories and principles underlying the practice of forensic psychology within Penal, Probation and NHS contexts. It is assessed though coursework.

Prior learning requirements


Module aims

This module is primarily intended for those who intend to enter into or continue working in prisons or the probation service. However, it is also of relevance to those who have research interests in this area or who wish to increase their knowledge of this part of the criminal justice system. The main aim of this module is to provide students with a depth of knowledge and understanding of how psychology can be applied to the work of psychologists in the penal system. More specifically, the aims are to:
1. Expand upon and add to material addressed in earlier Units (particularly PYP001C: Psychology and Criminal Behaviour, PYP002C Introduction to Assessment and Intervention and PYP036C: Applied Assessment and Intervention).
2. Explore the demands likely to be faced by psychologists working in the prison and probation services.
3. Consider the current and future applications of psychology to topics of importance to psychologists in the prison and probation services.


The syllabus will draw from a wide range of topics areas that may include the following:
• The management and accountability of HM Prison and National Probation Services; Professional roles and relationships of prison and probation service staff;
• Working with complex prisoners such as those with personality disorders, both directly and indirectly as part of a multi-agency (criminal justice, third sector, social care and health service) system (e.g. MAPPA)
• Forensic psychology in closed settings other than HMPS (e.g. Regional Secure Units and Special Hospitals) and applied practice issues in such settings.
• Forensic psychology in Close Supervision Centres .
• Issues of interest to those working with incarcerated populations  (e.g. Bullying; Self-harm and suicide; Mental Health; Drug use; Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder legislation)
• Multi-Agency working and understanding the roles of other disciplines and agencies in penal system settings (e.g. NHS).

Learning and teaching

The learning and teaching methods for this Module consist of a combination of Lectures and Student Seminars. Where possible, feasible, and appropriate these may be supplemented by visits to relevant prison and probation service locations, or from guest speakers from such settings.

Lectures and Student Seminars (topics prepared by a sub-group of the cohort and subsequently presented to the rest of their peers facilitated by a member of staff) will deliver core material to students and will provide a framework for further reading and learning.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, the student will be able to:
1. Discuss the roles of forensic psychologists working in the prison and probation services, and to provide a basic introduction to the penal system to those with limited first-hand experience of it.
2. Communicate effectively about the application of psychology to issues of importance to the challenges and needs met by forensic psychologists in the penal system.
3. Demonstrate a comprehensive awareness of the role and contribution of psychological reflective practice in forensic psychological practice, especially working in the penal system.

Assessment strategy

The assessment for this module comprises a coursework professional report.

The professional report will require students to provide a written consultant’s report for HM Prison and National Probation Services in response to a fictitious context that they will be given. This context will be appropriate to the application of psychological theory and research. In terms of the content of the consultant report students will be asked to provide an evaluation of the case study provided and any recommendations they think appropriate in terms of policy and / or professional practice. The professional report must be between 2,500 and 3,000 words in length and aims to address Learning Outcomes 1 and 2.

There is also an attendance requirement whereby students are expected to attend a minimum of 5 sessions In order to pass this module. Bank holidays and reading weeks are automatically counted as attended sessions.


Core text book:
G. J. Towl & D. A. Crighton (2010). Forensic Psychology. Oxford: BPS Blackwell


1. Chui, W.H and Nellis, M. (2003). Moving Probation Forward: Evidence, Arguments and Practice. Harlow: Pearson Longman
2. HM Prison Service (2002). What works in prison strategy. London: HM Prison Service.
3. Issues in Forensic Psychology
4. McGuire, J. (2002). Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment: Effective Programmes to Reduce Re-Offending. Chichester, John Wiley and Sons.
5. Ministry of Justice (2011). Working with Personality Disordered Offenders: A Practitioners Guide. London: HMSO
6. Shewan, D. & Davies, J. B. (eds.) (2000). Drug use and prisons: an international perspective. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.
7. Springer, (2003). Substance Abuse Treatment for Criminal Offenders. Washington DC: American Psychological Society.
8. Toch, H. (2002) Acting out: Maladaptive Behaviour in Confinement. Washington DC: American Psychological Society.
9. Toch, H (2007). Men in Crisis: human breakdowns in prisons. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers
10. Towl, G. (Ed.) (2003). Psychology in prisons. Oxford: BPS Blackwell.
11. Towl, G. Snow G. and McHugh. M. (2002) Suicide in Prisons. Oxford: BPS Blackwell.