Relevant beyond prison and pandemic: A career in incarceration studies

Though incarceration is often associated with imprisonment in jail or prison, the word has a host of contexts including historical slavery, pandemic lockdowns, and wartime camps, modern-day trafficking and even situations of domestic abuse.

Incarceration studies consider a range of these contexts and their cultures. Within such carceral environments, creativity has flourished in diverse ways, whether in songs, poetry, art or memoirs, and has been documented and represented further in film, music and photography.

Relevance in the modern world

Students get to experience teaching, research and practical experiences that are linked by four ideas – culture, criminology, creativity, and community. As India develops its knowledge economy and moves away from a one size fits all education system, it places new value on critical thinking skills and passion, practicality and performance around learning.

As more students follow this study path it will lead to a wider variety of career opportunities as employers need to diversify the types of people they employ. These subjects will help drive innovation in the knowledge economy. Studying incarnation studies would have been unheard of even several years ago in India, but today presents graduates with a wealth of options for their future careers.

Four Cs of ‘big ideas’

The discipline is underpinned and interlinked by four Cs of ‘big ideas’ about incarceration: Culture, criminology, creative-critical practices, and community. The world is increasingly changing, and to meet the dynamics of the changing world, we need a varied course curriculum. Studying this area will give an understanding of the changing spectacle of the world, as it demands an upgraded outlook of its inhabitants.

Students are assessed through a mixed portfolio of assessments, including reflective writing, journalistic (blog) writing, report writing (including data analysis), audio podcasts, and more traditional essay and dissertation writing. Incarceration Studies subsequently produces enlightened, empowered and empathetic global communicators and researchers who are well-versed in processes and debates surrounding creative and cultural production in diverse carceral contexts.

Skill development and career opportunities

Incarceration Studies equip students with advanced analytical, research and writing skills, which will lead graduates to a wide range of workplaces. Such critical thinking skills, alongside the knowledge and practical experiences acquired, will enable graduates to pursue a wide range of careers in journalism, publishing, the prison, police and probation services, teaching, government agencies, and volunteer work both in India and globally.

Indeed, incarceration studies foster intellectual flexibility by transcending the constraints of regular disciplines. It combines literature, history, political science, international relations, film, music, visual arts, sociology, criminology and creative writing. Employers are impressed by such broad intellectual capabilities and the confidence that these generate. Moreover, the international angle of the programme is essential for employers because it fosters cross-cultural perspectives and thus critical awareness of multiculturalism, which enables students better to understand their place in an increasingly globalised world.

Indian employers particularly value practical experience as it can provide evidence of professionalism, adaptability and the attitudes and aptitudes which enable students to be effective in the workplace. The innovative discipline displays best practices that also include an international perspective and immersive experience. It is encouraged by employers in the criminal justice sector as these applicants can demonstrate a realistic understanding of the nature of the industry, provide first-hand insights into current issues and the challenges and opportunities these present.

(The author is a senior lecturer in American studies, University of Hull, UK)

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