Meet the lecturers delivering Arden's new MA in Serious and Violent Crime

Having served as a Prison Officer for almost 17 years, it’s fair to say that one of Arden University’s lecturers in criminology, Dr Darren Woodward, knows a thing or two about life behind bars.

Darren is one of the academics delivering Arden’s new postgraduate course, MA in Serious and Violent Crime. As well as academic qualifications and experience, many of the lecturers involved have practitioner backgrounds from across the entire spectrum of the Criminal Justice System, ensuring that learners on this master’s gain skills that are sure to set them apart in their professions.

Covering areas such as reflective practice, leadership, and the psychology of serious offending, those undertaking this brand-new course will gain the professional knowledge, skills, and attributes required to become leaders within the sector.

‘What we're trying to impart on this course is realism within the world of criminology,’ says Darren. ‘I think that's something that was really lacking for me through pretty much all my criminology experience. I always wanted the real person who's actually experienced this to talk to me.’

And hard-earned, real-life experience is something Darren, alongside his fellow "pracademics", has plenty of. 

Starting his career in the sector at an early age, Darren initially faced challenging conditions when working at the young offenders’ institute, HMPYOI Glen Parva in Leicester. 

‘It was often quite difficult. The prisoners were often very close to my age and I was probably the youngest officer there by about 10 years. I was involved in almost every situation you can imagine, and that was hard for a 22-year-old to take. It's hard for anyone at any age.’

‘I'll be honest with you, it's a difficult job. But my resilience showed, and I worked and worked at it, because it was a job that I wanted to do. It's a very unique world working in a prison.'

Following three years in Leicester, Darren moved north to HMP Hull, a large local prison which holds about 1100 people. Initially working in the resettlement department, or what is now called the Offender Management Unit, Darren was working on projects linked to the sentence planning of prisoners, managing risk, and helping to find housing. 

‘It was really interesting, actually, being off the landings for a bit. But I ended up doing all sorts of jobs. I like to sort of move every couple of years. I don't like staying still, let's just put it that way.’

Undertaking a variety of roles and responsibilities at Hull, Darren found himself working on the landings, the busy induction wings, the vulnerable prisoner units that included sex offenders. 

His affection for working in prisons, his camaraderie with the staff, and love for Prison Humour (‘It’s dark, but there’s nothing quite like it’) might make his shift to academia seem something of a surprise.

However, having previously studied for an undergraduate degree back in 1999, he was encouraged to take on postgraduate education when working at Hull prison, with the institution funding his studying for two years with The University of Portsmouth.

‘I really enjoyed it. I really got back into studying and learning and it started to put a new slant on how I was learning about things, and how I was seeing things. I had a different point of view in the prison as well.’

A chance encounter at the prison led to the offer of a bursary from the University of Hull, allowing Darren to complete a PhD. 

‘I wanted to go and do something completely different. And that was where my career change came in. Because my supervisors both said that I just had this natural ability to teach.’

Darren Woodward

From there, Darren’s experience, as well as his natural ability, saw his academic career take off. He was appointed programme lead at University of Grimsby before moving onto Coventry University, arriving at Arden after the pandemic. Trading prisoners for postgraduates, he has found there’s no substitute for real-world experience. 

‘You’ll talk to academics, or people who haven't got the real-life experience, and they’ll get the theory, but when you're talking about what the smell is like when you're opening up a cell that someone's done horrible things in, well… that's real. You can start to apply that to, for example, Sykes’ Pains of Imprisonment. 

But The Pains of Imprisonment are only good on paper, you have to actually learn and live in it to get the full picture.’

‘I want to be able to help people who want to become professionals. Who can really empathise and create rapport with people that potentially are very dangerous, and just sort of show some understand ending levels of understanding that perhaps a normal ordinary criminology degree or masters can't do.’

As Darren is quick to point out, a degree isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for working in the prison service. He does, however, point out the benefits qualifications like the MA in Serious and Violent Crime can bring about. 

‘If you've got on your CV that you've done a master's studying serious, violent crime, there are things that will open up in the prison service for you to. Very quickly, they will start to spot people to look at for senior leadership roles in the future. It’s just as helpful if you just want to go to work on the landings though, because you've still got the transferable skills and grounding of this masters behind you.’


Dr David Honeywell is another of the lecturers on this course with significant experience of the sector, albeit from the other side of the bars. 

‘My background is what you might call non-traditional,’ David says. ‘I didn't go to college. I left school without any qualifications at all. Then, back in 1983, I ended up in Durham prison.’

Having served two sentences in jail for robbery, David is all too familiar with the Criminal Justice system. 

With a father serving in the RAF, David found himself attending a number of different schools throughout his youth, moving house every two years - struggling to make friends, and being treated by teachers as more of a “guest” than a student. He thought he was turning his back on the education system for good when he walked out of an exam and never came back.

However, when serving time in Durham prison, David had his eyes opened to education by a Prison Officer. 

‘Because of school, I thought I hated anything to do with learning and teaching. But, with no expectations, prison gave me an opportunity to shine.’

Taking a Social Studies course, David immediately felt at home in a learning environment for the first time in his life, eventually passing the first exam of his life in a prison cell.

‘I got a lot more encouragement from prison education than I did school. As soon as I got in the classroom, it was nice and calm. They always called us by our first names there, rather than by numbers or our surnames. That can be quite a big deal when you struggle with your identity.’

Following his release, David wanted to continue his studies, but life got in the way. He moved south in search of work, spending time as a pot-wash and a Chef before finding himself in trouble with the law again, this time facing a five-year sentence. 

Back behind bars, he found education again. This time, it wasn’t a prison officer that introduced him, however. A life-sentenced prisoner, who had completed a degree, put David in touch with a coordinator from the Open University. David passed one of their courses, which secured him an unconditional offer to Northumbria University on release.  

‘When I came out of prison, I didn't realise how unsettled and how damaged it was, to be honest. I underwent treatment. I got diagnosed with personality disorder, which kind of gave me sort of a relief. Things made sense to me once I learned what it meant.’

He finished his undergraduate studies at Teesside University, surrounded by his family, and graduated in 2000, taking on a master's degree straight after that. However, unable to find support for a PHD, he lost momentum. 

David Honeywell

‘I kind of drifted again,’ he says, describing time spent working in PR and journalism, ‘But I started doing guest talks on the university circuit around the 2011 Riots.’

This experience reignited a desire to secure his PHD, studying for it at York University, where he was first approached about taking on the responsibility of teaching. 

‘I've always been open about my history, and I remember getting called in for an interview to talk about my colourful past. I immediately thought, “Oh no, here we go again, another rejection.” And it was the opposite. They said, “How would you feel about sharing your past with the students?”’

And so, David’s career as an academic went from there. Suddenly, David was sharing his experience and insight with students, combining his previous background with academic insight. One of his most surreal experiences as a teacher came at Durham University, coming full circle to find himself set up in an office that about 100 yards from the very same prison where he’d passed his first exam. 

'Part of the module was taking my students into Durham prison. So, I went back in and showed them round myself.'

Now, like Darren, David is most interested in putting his experience into his teaching. For him, this course is about helping prepare others for work in the sector by giving them the best grounding possible. Something he believes comes from having a wealth of practical experience across the academic staff. 

‘What makes this course different is that we've got people like me, Darren, Claire Eggleton, who is a lecturer in criminology, and Dr Shannon DeBlasion, who is a senior lecturer, involved. We've all worked in the prison system. Claire’s an ex-copper, Shannon was a prison psychologist. We've got a person from every prison sector working together. I've not seen that in any other university. That is absolutely unique.’

Dr Emma Winlow, Head of the School of Criminal Justice, is proud to have such a diverse and experienced team of ‘pracademics’ delivering on this course. 

‘Having this kind of experience on the team is absolutely vital in helping us safeguard the academic rigor and scholarship of our courses whilst ensuring they are accessible to those who require extra support as practitioners.’

‘There are a lot of individuals with a keen interest in the sector who would greatly benefit from the wisdom and experience of our staff. We wouldn’t want them to miss out just because they feel they may be out of practise or unfamiliar with writing essays.’ 

As well as benefitting from the experience of the course’s academics, students will learn about key criminal justice institutions in the UK and globally, alongside key theories and research implications for policy and practice. Students will also develop their research and digital skills by undertaking independent research alongside being equipped to work in the industry. 

Using case studies, learners on the course will critically analyse a wide range of criminological topics within the remit of serious and violent crime, such as terrorism, sexual offences, and the dark web, while also gaining the specialised skill set needed to cope with traumatic material in high-pressure environments and lead teams through challenging incidents and investigations.

Click here to find out more about applying to study Arden University’s MA in Serious and Violent Crime. 

Please note, we offer guaranteed admission onto the course for anyone with a bachelor's degree (2:2) in a related field or at least three years of work experience within the Criminal Justice System.