Promoting Literacy and Creative Writing Skills at HMP Edinburgh
Submitting InstitutionEdinburgh Napier University
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the impact of research on reading and writing
in prisons for prisoners at HMP Edinburgh, through a partnership between
the BA (Hons) English Suite at Edinburgh Napier, Fife College (previously
`Carnegie College') and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). Dr Anne
Schwan's research into the literary and cultural significance of literacy
in prisons has resulted in a partnership that benefits prisoners who
receive one-to-one tuition from student volunteers. The students engage in
literacy and creative writing exercises at the prison. These activities
provide tailored support that could not be offered within the resource
constraints of regular educational provision.
The underpinning outputs are the work of Dr Anne Schwan (at Edinburgh
Napier since 2007 and promoted from Lecturer to Reader during this time).
She was Programme Leader for English for several years and is an appointed
member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland.
Schwan's research (2009-present) has made original contributions to the
interdisciplinary field of prison studies. The overall purpose of the
research is to demonstrate the social function of reading and writing in
prisons and the importance of cultural platforms for prisoners' voices.
Largely focused on the nineteenth and early twentieth century, her work
adds historical dimensions to debates on the significance of prisoners'
voices in criminology, history and literary studies. It provides
historical evidence to inform public understanding of offender
perspectives in today's media and the third sector. For the contemporary
context, an edited special issue with Introduction [3.2], presents reading
and writing in prison as a space for radical pedagogy and transformation,
through the multi-disciplinary study of prisoner autobiography, creative
writing and reading practices, and partnerships between universities and
penal institutions in present-day Britain and North America. Calling for
awareness of how prison activism has informed cultural theory, Schwan's How
to Read Foucault's Discipline and Punish (co-authored with Stephen
Shapiro) finds that Foucault's influential study must be read alongside
the Frenchman's involvement with the Groupe d'Information sur les
prisons (GIP), which created opportunities for prisoners to
speak up about prison conditions [3.3].
The research for Schwan's monograph Convict Voices: Women, Class, and
Writing About Prison in 19th Century England
(contracted and forthcoming 2014 with the University Press of New
England), involved textual analysis of historical material, including
reformist writings, manuscripts and ephemera (e.g. prison letters and
diaries, execution broadsides). Female prisoners' voices in these accounts
are situated as significant precursors of later writings on imprisonment
to illuminate historical changes and continuities in educational
opportunities for (ex) prisoners and prisoner self-expression. The
insights into historical conditions in (women's) prisons gained through
this research were mapped onto the contemporary prison context to enhance
prisoners' experiences through additional support with reading and writing
Schwan's article in Women's History Review [3.1] on a largely
unknown suffragette is based on archival research into the woman's secret
prison diary. The article reveals the constraints on (suffrage) prisoners'
ability to communicate as well as the functions of reading and writing for
imprisoned women and communities from different class backgrounds. An
extended study of popular fiction writer Robinson's fictional prison
narratives [3.6], published under the anonym of "A Prison Matron,"
demonstrates how these texts created unusual platforms for prisoners'
voices when opportunities for actual self-expression were limited.
Research into such material has identified a long-standing literary and
cultural tradition of giving voice to prisoners—a tradition which forms
the historical basis for contemporary concerns with offender perspectives.
References to the research
1. Schwan, Anne, "`Bless the Gods for My Pencils and Paper': Katie
Gliddon's Prison Diary, Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Suffragettes at
Holloway." Women's History Review, 22.1 (2013): 148-67. ISSN
0961-2025. DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2012.724917.
2. Schwan, Anne, ed. and introd., "Reading and Writing in Prison,"
special issue of Critical Survey 23.3 (December 2011). ISSN
3. Schwan, Anne, and Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Foucault's
Discipline and Punish (Pluto Press 2011). ISBN 9780745329802, 192pp.
4. Schwan, Anne, "Crime." In: Dickens in Context, Sally Ledger
and Holly Furneaux (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 301-309. ISBN:
5. Schwan, Anne, "`Dreadful Beyond Description': Mary Carpenter's Prison
Reform Writings and Female Convicts in Britain and India," European
Journal of English Studies 14.2 (2010): 107-120. ISSN 1382-5577.
6. Schwan, Anne, "`From Dry Volumes of Facts and Figures' to Stories of
`Flesh and Blood': The Prison Narratives of Frederick William Robinson."
In: Stones of Law — Bricks of Shame: Narrating Imprisonment in the
Victorian Age, Jan Alber and Frank Lauterbach (eds.), Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2009. 191-212. ISBN 9780802098979.
Publications No. 1, 4, 5 and 6 are included in REF 2014.
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Early Career Fellowship
(January — August 2011, £41,551) for completion of Schwan's monograph Convict
Voices. The application for this Fellowship included an impact plan
detailing ideas for the partnership with a local prison, which have now
been implemented successfully.
British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS) Conference Grant (£200)
for organization of Schwan's conference "Reading and Writing in Prison" in
Higher Education Academy Scotland Travel Fund Grant (£178) for Schwan's
attendance at English Subject Centre event "Beyond the Classroom: English
in the Community" in London, December 2009.
Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland Grant (£520) for Schwan's
archival research in London on "Imprisonment in British Suffragette
Writing," awarded January 2009.
Details of the impact
Schwan's historical research produced insights into restrictions placed
on prisoner communication, access to reading and writing materials.
Research on contemporary partnerships between universities and penal
institutions revealed a continuing need for literacy education and the
benefits of creative activities amongst prisoners. These findings resulted
in a volunteering scheme at HMP Edinburgh. Since November 2011, Schwan has
been overseeing a project offering placements at the prison's learning
centre. Up until 31 July 2013, ten final-year students on English degrees
have participated in six-week placements, working alongside prison
education staff for half a day a week. Activities varied depending on
institutional requirements and student expertise, including one-to-one
literacy work and creative writing, with male and female prisoners.
Typically, a student volunteer was assigned 1-3 prisoners within a larger
group; due to turnover in the centre, students sometimes worked with
different individuals from week to week. In total, approximately 25
prisoners have benefited. Initially, the scheme was run as a pilot, agreed
with local management and Fife College (the contracted learning provider
at HMP Edinburgh). After a successful pilot in 2011/2, the project was
formally approved by SPS HQ and written into the contract of delivery
between Fife College and the SPS.
In the year of its inception, the project was favourably mentioned in the
Annual Report of the Edinburgh Prison Visiting Committee for the year
ending 31 March 2012 [5.4]. The Report notes that the project "provided
some prisoners with individual literacy support," thus helping to "fill
some of the gap in literacy support" after the withdrawal of funding for
"Clan Literacy" from April 2011. Detailing the positive effect of
individualised support through a particular volunteer, one prison teacher
remarked how the student "helped one prisoner who is dyslexic, patiently
and the prisoner was delighted with the support" [5.5]. The project's
impact and added value is also demonstrated by another student's comment
that he "was able to offer assistance to one inmate who was attempting a
design project that was beyond the computer skill-set of the tutor" [5.5].
This indicates that prisoners and learning centre benefit intellectually
and materially through the volunteers' skill and expertise, which are
offered for free.
The Visiting Committee's Report notes that the scheme also helps create
foundations "to educate future professionals about working in prison
education" [5.4: 4.5.6, p. 15]. The volunteers therefore act as
multipliers benefitting prisoners they are working with, but also in the
sense that volunteers may have potential future impact as practitioners in
related fields. One student commented that "[t]he placement reinforced
interest in adult based work with creative literacy" and that he would
"consider the sessional employment in the prison as additional work"
[5.5]. Other corroborating statements have been sought, but, due to the
rigorous confidentiality issues surrounding Her Majesty's Prisons, this
information is not available for public dissemination.
Additionally the impact can be measured through the ways in which
Schwan's organisation of and appearances at events attended by
practitioners and professionals working in the prison system have
contributed to raising awareness and understanding of the research's
objectives and the prison project's practicalities. Schwan's research and
its application to a local prison context were consolidated at the
international conference "Reading and Writing in Prison" (Edinburgh Napier
June 2010). This event was attended by around 50 participants, including
one representative of the Scottish Book Trust; two members of Stirling
Council and Stirling Libraries; one representative from SPS HQ and a
Prison Governor; the Assistant Head of School for Communities and Learner
Development at Fife College [5.2]; ten creative practitioners and
educators working in the Scottish or English prison systems; two former
prisoners, one of whom is also a Guardian journalist; one
journalist (Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday). One
participant (Readers & Writers in Prisons Programme Officer at English
PEN) wrote after the event: "I enjoyed the conference and met and heard
some fascinating speakers" [5.6].
In September 2012, Schwan was an invited panellist at the Arts and
Humanities Research Council-funded symposium on "Prison Reading Groups"
(University of Roehampton) to present Edinburgh Napier's volunteering
project. Circa 70 people attended the event, the majority of whom were
volunteers facilitating reading groups in English prisons, journalists,
publishers, creative practitioners, prison librarians and representatives
of charities such as the Prisoners' Education Trust. The event afforded
Schwan with an opportunity to raise awareness of the volunteering scheme
amongst a wider community of stakeholders in penal systems beyond
Scotland. Schwan's presentation resulted in an invitation to contribute a
piece — co-authored by prisoners and volunteers — about the volunteering
scheme for the "Learning Matters" Newsletter of the Charity The Prisoners'
Education Trust (awaiting approval by the SPS's Communications
As demonstrated, the research and volunteering scheme have already
impacted on institutional penal policy at the local level, with the
potential to become a model for similar projects elsewhere. Such work is
especially urgent given that large numbers of prisoners (e.g. 80% in
Scotland) are functionally illiterate, which impedes their chances of
securing employment and a life without crime (figures cited on BBC
Sources to corroborate the impact
The following sources and individuals involved in the formal approval and
subsequent organisation of the partnership are able to corroborate the
5.1 The Head of Learning & Skills at Scottish Prison Service HQ
5.2 The Assistant Head of School in Communities and Learner Development
at Fife College (one of the SPS's main learning providers)
5.3 The Manager of the Learning Centre at HMP Edinburgh
5.4 The Annual Report of the Edinburgh Prison Visiting Committee cited
under "4. Details of the Impact":
5.5 Student volunteers and prison teacher cited under "4."
5.6 Participants in the "Reading and Writing in Prison" conference cited