New study shows that teaching philosophy in prisons could improve behaviour

  • The works of Plato could improve inmates' behaviour in prison
  • MMU researcher taught a 12-week philosophy course in jails

A new study has revealed that teaching philosophy in prisons could improve inmates’ behaviour and self-esteem.

Manchester Metropolitan University researcher Dr. Kirstine Szifirs taught a 12-week course of philosophical sessions to category-A inmates at prisons in Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire.

Dr Szifirs discussed the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes through a series of philosophical problems to challenge the hyper-masculine ‘survival behaviour’ in the prison. 

It led inmates to explore how they would handle certain situations. One scenario was to imagine they were shipwrecked with other survivors, making them question how they would organise and survive in their new surroundings.

She said: “I think I’m pragmatically learning through these sessions – learning more tolerance. I have to broaden my horizons even more, understand people more, why, who, how, feelings, all of them stuff which I closed off.

“They relaxed, taking the classes for what they were meant to be – a place to engage in open, philosophical conversation. The negativity had gone, and the lack of trust in me, the process, or each other, dissipated.”

Dr Szifirs will present her findings at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Newcastle.