SAFESOC collaboration wins The Sheila McKechnie Foundation Creative Change-makers Award.


The “Woodhill” film and theatre project was awarded The Sheila McKechnie Foundation Creative Change-makers Award at a ceremony in London on 15th May 2024. The project raised awareness of prison suicide, associated harms, and how multisectoral regulators could help to reduce harms. 

The SAFESOC research team (Prof Philippa Tomczak and Dr Gill Buck) worked with LUNG Theatre and the Woodhill Families Group to co-create a campaign advocating penal reform. This involved:

  • A film centring one mother’s experience of losing a son in prison and the resulting death investigations, seeking to inspire systemic improvements, presented at conferences (including to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions), and to the House of Lords.
  • A documentary play touring to 3,573 people across the nation.
  • A media public awareness campaign reaching 1.19 million people.
  • A training package of two short films co-created by the Woodhill Families group.
  • A policy brief presented at the House of Lords.
  • A series of consultative meetings with ministers about improving conditions at HMP Woodhill and across the wider prison estate.

The full award nomination can be read here.

The award ceremony can be viewed here.


New event calls for improvement to prison safety and investigations into prisoner deaths

Parliamentarians and journalists were among those who attended an event aiming to increase prison safety, prompted by recent research from the University of Nottingham. 

The research, led by Professor Philippa Tomczak in the School of Sociology, highlighted issues in prisoner safety, and recommended changes to investigations into prisoner deaths.

Every year, hundreds of prisoners die in England and Wales — in the 12 months to September 2022, there were 307 deaths in prison custody.

The research recommended that investigations into the deaths should name the systematic reasons behind the deaths, whether it be through too many prisoners or too few staff.

The event on October 24th saw academics and representatives from a number of organisations come together to highlight the findings of the report, including HM Prisons and Probation Service, the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, Ministry of Justice, National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death, and the NHS.

More than 70 people attended the event, promoting discussion about how best to avoid deaths of prisoners in custody, and methods to reduce pain for loved ones affected.

Professor Philippa Tomczak said: “Reading these death investigations and hearing families’ words over and over again is simply devastating. The UK is the sixth richest national economy in the world. The British education system has one of the highest education standards in the world. We can do better than this. Hopefully this event and the research will kickstart more effective prisoner death investigations and improved prison safety.”

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon added: “Listening to the testimonies of those with a family member who had committed suicide in prison was powerful, devastating. It’s clear that action must be taken to prevent further suicides in prisons. Yesterday’s event was invaluable in raising awareness amongst those who could make a difference.”

Read the full report here

Thinking Allowed, Radio 4 interview

Dr Philippa Tomczak is interviewed on Radio 4:

Thinking Allowed, Prison protest: Laurie Taylor explores the way in which prisoners have sought to transform the conditions of their imprisonment and have their voices heard. Nayan Shah, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and History at the University of Southern California, considers the global history of hunger strikes from suffragists in the US and UK to Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland and anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa. What is the meaning and impact of the refusal to eat? They’re joined by Philippa Tomczak, Director of the Prisons, Health and Societies Research Group at the University of Nottingham, and author of a study which examines the way in which the 1990 riots at HMP Strangeways helped to re-shape imprisonment. Was the change lasting or significant?

2022 Young Criminologist Award

Dr Philippa Tomczak was delighted to receive the 2022 Young Criminologist Award from the European Society of Criminology in recognition of her research into prison safety.  She was presented with the award at the European Society of Criminology’s annual conference in September 2022 in Malaga, Spain.  As a result of this award, Philippa was subsequently interviewed by Notts TV, see the interview here.

Death in Prisons Conference, Oxford, 2/3 November 2022

The Death in Prison conference took place at the University of Oxford from 2nd – 3rd of November 2022. The conference aimed to work collaboratively on ways to visibilise and prevent prisoner deaths, with a focus on historical and international contexts. The event was attended by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, international NGOs, international academic researchers, arts campaigners, people who have been personally impacted by deaths in prison, and prison regulation actors.  

Read the full report here