Food, power, and self-actualisation in prison: A comparative view

A/Prof Anna Eriksson1

1Monash University, Melbourne , Australia

This paper will use food in prison as a lens through which to explore daily life in prisons in Australia and Norway, and how the differences found can help us understand more about the kind of practices that can meet basic needs and those that can underpin post-release success. I will draw on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to examine how, in prisons where food and other basic provisions are scarce, prisoners are forced to focus on basic survival needs and are unable to make much use of programs, education and rehabilitation. In contrast, in a system where the basic provisions are high, such as in Norway, prisoners are more able to focus on the higher levels needs, such as relationship building, respect of others and self, and aim towards self-actualization, which provides a stronger foundation for desistence. Based on fieldwork in 14 prisons in Australia and Norway, I will also discuss examples of food and eating that reflect deeper structural differences around staff-prisoner interactions, the success or failure of dynamic security, and hierarchies of power within both prisoner- and staff groups.

Associate Professor Anna Eriksson is an international scholar in the areas of comparative penology, restorative justice, and criminal justice reform. She is the author of Contrasts in Punishment: Explaining Anglophone Excess and Nordic Exceptionalism, Oxford: Routledge, 2013 (with John Pratt), and she held an ARC DECRA between 2012-14 on comparative penology. She has also undertaken several research projects focused on people with acquired brain injury in the criminal justice system, and she aims to combine empirical research with interdisciplinary theoretical scholarship and industry engagements that can lead to changing criminal justice practice.


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