Philosophy in Prisons

Since July 2021, Centre member Jim Chamberlain has been involved with the charity Philosophy in Prison, first as its Research Associate and then as a Trustee. Philosophy in Prison promotes the development and delivery of philosophy sessions in prisons and aims to explore the practical and philosophical principles that such sessions involve. As an example of the latter aim, Jim has co-organised and co-chaired a series of online workshops for a philosophical research project, ‘Prison Voices’, which involves a range of philosophers, criminologists, lawyers, ex-prisoners and others discussing (among other things) epistemic injustices in prisons.
This year, Jim has delivered approximately 30 sessions in category B and category C prisons. This includes a UoS Arts and Humanities Knowledge Exchange project, supported by Philosophy in Prison, to develop and run four philosophy sessions in HMP Stafford. The
project aimed to pilot the use of philosophical conversations to deliver highly inclusive philosophy sessions. These were designed to engage anyone interested in attending,
including those with learning difficulties or those without English as a first language, reading or writing skills, or much formal education.
Jim worked with Barney Riggs, then a PhD student in Sheffield’s Department of Philosophy, to develop and deliver four 1.5-hour-long sessions, which ran every Friday in May for approximately 12 men (with support from Mike Coxhead when Covid prevented Jim from attending the final session). The sessions were on the topics of identity over time, personal identity, psychological determinism, and consequentialism. To ensure their inclusivity, these topics were discussed without addressing the details of their philosophical history or using complex theoretical terms. The resulting conversations were very lively and interesting, and the participants expressed a range of very interesting and carefully considered philosophical views.
Feedback was very positive. One participant had initially expressed worries about being insufficiently articulate for the sessions, but found the sessions welcoming and was able to fully participate. Two participants requested further information on the philosophical history, context, and theories involved in the topics. Generally, participants reported being comfortable and feeling welcomed in the sessions, and said that they enjoyed them and wanted more.
Following the project, a further 10-week course of philosophy will begin in January 2023, led by new volunteers for Philosophy in Prison and building on the pilot and its findings. Jim also drew on the experience, among others, to inform a paper, ‘Shouting Inside’, which he wrote with MM McCabe and Mike Coxhead. This was presented at the Irish Philosophical Society’s annual conference, ‘Philosophy in the Public Space’, at Trinity College Dublin in October 2022. Some of Jim’s experiences are also detailed in an essay for The Philosopher’s Magazine, which he wrote with Mike Coxhead, called ‘Philosophical
Conversations in Prison