NUI Maynooth offering college courses to Mountjoy prisoners

Emma Nevin

NUI Maynooth has partnered with Mountjoy prison to bring college education to prisoners, making the programme the first of its kind in Irish history.

The selected prisoners are participating in online lectures and tutorials with Maynooth students, a result of the College Connect programme.

“The partnership aims to harness the transformative power of education to promote access to third-level and support the reintegration of prisoners and former prisoners in society,” a Maynooth spokesperson said.

Donnacha Walsh, assistant governor at Mountjoy Prison, told The Irish Times “we are looking at getting [prisoners] from our education units in the prisons to go to Maynooth University and study as mature students.¨

Maynooth said it would engage with the prison through a range of educational activities and the creation of shared learning spaces for students and prisoners, according to a statement by the school.

This newfound partnership has stemmed from an earlier partnership dubbed the “story exchange project”, which ran from September 2019 to March 2020. It featured 13-week intensive series’ of peer to peer empathy-building workshops between inmates and university students.

According to a report from Maynooth, the goal of the story exchange project was to “challenge stereotypes and create a sense of shared endeavour.¨

“One of the key barriers for young working-class men to educational progression is a lack of confidence that university life is for them,” the report said.

“With accents, clothing and lifestyles that may differ from their middle-class peers, it can be hard to imagine fitting in. One way to diminish the ‘us versus them’ attitudes is to allow individuals from the inside and the outside to engage in a shared learning experience that creates a sense of community.¨

Following the success of the story exchange project, Maynooth and Mountjoy prison look forward to teaming up again.

“Building on the great work which has already been taking place between the university and Mountjoy, the partnership provides strategic direction and support for a range of new initiatives,” a spokesperson from the univeristy said.

Emma Nevin 

Image credit: Irish Prison Service