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Dr Isla Masson

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Research interests

My research interests relate to gender and incarceration. My PhD and subsequent book explored the longevity of the harm of first short prison sentences on mothers. This involved a series of interviews with women whilst in custody and post release, looking at how incarceration affects their identity as a mother, as well as issues with mental health, housing and the impact on their families. My current research relates to the following two projects – Families on Remand (FOR) and Experiences of Care Leavers in Prison.

In the FOR project (with Dr Natalie Booth at Bath Spa University), funded by the Oakdale Trust, we explored the experiences of 61 loved ones with a relative on remand through semi-structured interviews. In line with existing literature on demographics of prison visitors, the majority interviewed were women (mostly mothers and partners), demonstrating the very ‘gendered nature’ of supporting those in prison and the gendered nature of the harms inflicted by remand.

In the Experiences of Care Leavers in Prison project (with Dr Kate Gooch, University of Bath and Professor Nathan Hughes, University of Sheffield) we explored how being in the care system influences experiences of custody with 94 participants in three prison sites, and I led on the female data collection and this strand of the project.

Teaching interests

I joined the Open University in 2022 after teaching in higher education since 2011 at many pre and post 1992 universities and being programme leader at two universities. I am currently working on the production of the new undergraduate module DD315 Researching Current Issues in Criminology, which is planned to launch in October 2023, the presentation of DD311 Crime, Harm and the State and am Qualification Lead for F75 MA in Crime and Justice. I am also the faculty Academic Conduct Officer.

Currently supervising PhD projects on:

  • Therapeutic relationships within prison sexual offender group treatment programmes
  • Ex-prisoner’s with neurodevelopmental disorders perceptions of prison behaviour programmes

Previous supervision:

  • Comparing the Treatment Needs of Male and Female Intimate Partner Violence

Impact and engagement

In 2018 I co-founded the Women, Family, Crime and Justice research network with colleagues at Leicester. We run regular well attended seminars with a range of speakers, including service users. I was lead editor on the first collection for this network, and co-edited the second edited collection from these events. I was also lead editor of the Handbook of Women’s Experiences of Criminal Justice with Routledge (published October 2022), co-ordinating and quality-controlling the contribution of over 45 interdisciplinary and international chapters. I previously contributed evidence to the Justice Committee’s call for evidence on Women in Prison, which was cited in the final report by the House of Commons Justice Committee  and I am also part of a working group exploring a bespoke offer for care experienced women in custody with the prison service. I regularly present work at national and international conferences, and am a member of the European Society of Criminology prison working group as well as the Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) at the Open University. I also previously co-led a project with the Restorative Justice Council exploring the role of restorative justice and criminalised women (funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust), volunteered with the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Onley, helped created a social enterprise at HMP Ryehill and worked with the organisation New Bridge, providing through the gate support for prisoners in a variety of London prisons.