“One step in front of an officer, one step behind as well”: The Negotiation of Power, Order and Legitimate Authority by Prisoners, Prison Staff and Prison Managers

Dr Kate Gooch1

1University Of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom,

To date, our understanding of authority and governance in prisons has been dominated by two theories: 1) legitimacy theory (Sparks et al, 1995; Crewe, 2011; Crewe et al, 2011; Liebling 2011) and, 2) governance theory (Skarbek, 2014). Whilst the former focuses on the extent to which the use of power and authority by staff is regarded as ‘legitimate’ by prisoners and with what effects, the latter focuses on the role of prisoners – and most notably in the US context, prison gangs – in policing and governing prisons. Whilst Skarbek hints at the relationship between the two, the particular ways in which the balance of power and governance between staff and prisoners is achieved, and how that manifests in order and control, or conversely, disorder, violence and homicide, is not yet well articulated. This paper draws upon ongoing empirical research to interrogate and better articulate how such negotiations happen, with what aims, and in what contexts. It seeks to compare styles, modes and techniques of prison governance in England, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, focusing on the relationship between prison governance and prison violence.

Dr Kate Gooch is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, having previously worked at the University of Birmingham and University of Leicester. After completing her doctoral research on the experiences of teenage boys in young offender institutions, she has continued to undertake ethnographic and qualitative research within prisons focusing on issues such as: violence, drugs, the illicit economy, serious and organised crime, physical restraint and the experiences of care leavers in custody. More recently, Kate completed a longitudinal study of the opening of HMP Berwyn, exploring themes such as leadership, organisational culture and change, organisational resilience, staff recruitment and training, prison building and architecture, and rehabilitative practices. Kate is currently the principal investigator on three large projects: 1) an ESRC funded grant entitled ‘The Rehabilitative Prison: An oxymoron or an opportunity to radically reform imprisonment?’ (with Professor Yvonne Jewkes); 2) Understanding and preventing prison homicide; 3) A comparative analysis of prison violence in England, Australia and New Zealand. With Professor James Treadwell, she is also writing a monograph for Palgrave entitled ‘Transforming the Violent Prison’, drawing on their extensive ethnographic and qualitative research on prison violence.


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