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Unique prison-university partnership launches

A groundbreaking partnership between a Dublin prison and one of the country’s top universities was launched this week.

The Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University Partnership (MJMU), which launched on Monday, is a unique partnership to promote access to education and support the reintegration of prisoners and former prisoners in 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.

Speakers at the event included Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris and Independent Senator Lynn Ruane.

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee T.D., said “The Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University Partnership shows that education transforms lives.

“Based on the values of respect, inclusion and diversity, the partnership makes education more accessible as a life changing opportunity for prison experienced people, empowering them to make informed choices and fulfill their potential.”

It was a moving event, featuring words by Dublin writer, poet and spoken word artist Colm Keegan and finishing with a recorded performance of the Auld Triangle by the Mountjoy Prison Inhouse Voices and the Solas Workplace Choir.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris T.D., said: “One of my focuses since becoming Minister for Further and Higher Education has been engaging with the Irish Prison Service, Solas and education partners about improving the pathways from prison education to third level education.

“Across the country there are important partnerships being built and today is one of those. “MJMU raises awareness of the benefits of such a partnership, not only to prison experienced people, but to the wider community. Educational opportunities should be for all, regardless of circumstances.

“Education is a right and I am so pleased to be here today to thank you for ensuring the doors of third level are open to all.”

The event also included speeches by Senator Lynn Ruane, Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Caron Mc Caffrey, Mountjoy Prison Governor Eddie Mullins, President of Maynooth University Professor Philip Nolan and Professor Aislinn O’Donnell, Maynooth University Education Department.

Professor Philip Nolan, President of Maynooth University said: “The MJMU Partnership fits with the mission, ethos and purpose of Maynooth University. At Maynooth, we believe that education is a right to which everybody should have access. But more important than that, we believe that education is a great leveller. It is a way of bringing people together and making them more equal. It is key to addressing systematic inequalities in society and disadvantage.”

The Narrative 4 Story Exchange Project was the first formal activity of the partnership. It was developed in partnership with Gaisce, The President’s Award scheme, and worked towards building empathy and understanding. The project brings together young people in Mountjoy Prison’s Progression Unit and young people studying in Maynooth University into Mountjoy Prison over the course of 6 months to work towards a Gaisce award.

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.

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