The Prison Firm: Conceptualising and Researching English Manifestations of Prison Organised Crime

Professor James Treadwell3

3Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom

This paper introduces debates on the political economy of prison organised crime in England and Wales and the role of the organised crime group, or what here is called the ‘Prison Firm’.  It examines the strength and limitations of the concept of the gang and gang narratives that connect with discourses on organised crime, which are frequently deployed in discussions regarding community-based criminality, and yet are less frequently considered in the context of the prison. Focusing on the connections between criminal culture and the specific political economy of prison locale, the paper argues that, for serious crime networks, the prison has several important roles and functions.  However, in mainstream criminology or penology, the conception and dominant view of the prison as a largely detached and separate realm is problematic. The prison plays a central role in both forming and limiting the contacts between specific criminal coalitions, as well as a realm of opportunity, especially when the prison is understood specifically as a significant (captive) market for illicit drugs.


Professor James Treadwell is a Professor of Criminology at Staffordshire University. He was academic advisor on the Howard League Commission into Ex-Military Personnel in Prison and is known for undertaking ethnographic and qualitative research for a number of crime and criminal justice related projects.  He has published numerous articles in leading journals such as  The British Journal of Criminology; Criminology and Criminal Justice; The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice; Crime, Media, Culture and Deviant Behaviour. He has been involved in a range of empirical research projects, including a long-term ethnographic project. James is a member of the editorial board of The British Journal of Criminology, and Chair of the Prizes Committee for the British Society of Criminology. His recent books include 50 facts everyone should know about crime and punishment in Britain; The truth behind the myths (Bristol, Policy Press) Rise of the Right, English Nationalism and the Transformation of Working-Class Politics Bristol, Policy Press) Riots and Political Protest: Notes form the Post Political Present London: Routledge) and Football Hooliganism, Fan Behaviour and Crime: Contemporary Issues, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan).

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