Ground-breaking partnership between Mountjoy and Maynooth

by Kim O Leary
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By Kim O’Leary

The RECENTLY launched Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University Partnership (MJMU) is aiming to promote access to education and support the reintegration of former prisoners into society.

The research and work undertaken by the partnership will inform national policy on the rights of prisoners and former prisoners to education and employment, and it is also a forum to share best practice across the education and prison sectors.

It builds on a collaboration with the City of Dublin Education and Training Board who are the primary providers of education within the Dublin Prison Service.

In 2019, Maynooth University Access Programme and Mountjoy Prison came together to make an application to the Public Service Innovation Fund 2019 to establish Ireland’s first prison-university partnership.

The MJMU Partnership aims to harness the transformative power of education to build the diversity of the third level student population whilst supporting the reintegration of prisoners and former prisoners to our society.

Speaking to the Dublin Gazette this week about the partnership between Maynooth University and Mountjoy Prison, Dr. Rose Ryan Director of Access at Maynooth University Access Programme, said that there has been a ‘very positive’ response to the partnership.

CAPTION: Mountjoy Prison has teamed up with Maynooth College to provide prisoners and former prisoners with a pathway to education, some of the dedicated team that made this partnership possible

“The participants feel very supported by the wide ranging and targeted student supports at Maynooth University and they feel very supported in their programmes of study.  Participants speak also of the opportunities that education has brought not just to them but also their families to break the cycle of disadvantage,” Dr Ryan explained.

MJMU also committed to running a series of lectures in Mountjoy to open up a broader range of academic experiences to inmates. The lectures were based on findings that those from under-represented backgrounds, including people with convictions, can sometimes find themselves funnelled into particular disciplines and careers such as sociology, social work, and addiction services. The lecture series thereby aims to provide a broader range of experiences.  

The Unlocking Potential Project is another initiative by the partnership which provides a guide to the admission of people with convictions across the higher education sector. All of the partnership’s work is guided by a Steering Group, whose membership is drawn from both organisations and includes a prisoner representative.

According to Dr. Ryan, the partnership between Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University is about helping people from all walks of life to access higher education.

However like with many things, the partnership has also experienced disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Yes, there has been some interruption to the work because of COVID-19 but like everyone, we are learning to adapt and are continuing to make good progress in this area,” explained Dr Ryan.

Meanwhile participants in the partnership have praised the partnership and the work of staff at Maynooth University.

Speaking to the Dublin Gazette, Jack, said that the partnership is a lifeline to those in the prison system, many of whom have not been able to access higher education before the partnership.

Read more in this weeks Dublin Gazette out in stores now

“In my view the Mountjoy and Maynooth University partnership is very important as it addresses the inequality for those in the prison service trying to access third-level education.

In my experience, I had found it very difficult to get a job after my time in the prison system, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The partnership gave me the opportunity to reflect and move forward in society,” explained Jack.

According to Jack, there is stigma affecting those in the prison system trying to move forward and get jobs.

“Poverty and inequality are stigmatised and the partnership is to make sure that people have a chance and the main message is that anyone can do it, they can get a degree or a Masters at college with the right support. Anyone who wants to do it can do it,” said Jack.

For more information visit https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/access-office/mountjoy-mu-partnership and the Unlocking Potential website will be launched in June 2021. 

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