Prison Violence, Drug Dealing and Masculinities: Interrogating New Organised Drug Economies through an Ethnographic Lens

Georgina Barkham-Perry

University of Leicester

In an article entitled ‘Prisoner Society in an Era of Hard Drugs,’ and one of few British empirical accounts of the prison drug market, Ben Crewe argued that the presence of hard drugs (notably heroin) had redefined the prison drug economy and restructured prisoner social relations (Crewe, 2005). Since publication of that article, and despite Crewe’s emphasis on the importance of the ethnographic method, little further ethnographic research on the prison drug economy has emerged. This paper draws on original ethnographic research to explore how new psychoactive substances – typically known by brand names such as ‘Mamba’ and ‘Spice’ – have rapidly emerged to replace heroin as the prison drug of choice in England and Wales and how this has impacted social and power dynamics ‘inside’. It is argued that the ‘era of hard drugs’ has been superseded by a new ‘era of new psychoactive drugs,’ which has once again redefined social relations, transformed the prison illicit economy, produced new forms of prison victimisation, and generated far greater economic power and status for suppliers. In examining these changes, this paper critically analyses the relationship between drug use and supply, and the performance of masculinities.


Mrs Georgina Barkham-Perry is an early career researcher undertaking and assisting on research projects with colleagues at the University of Leicester and University of Bath in the UK. Graduating with an MSc in Criminology in 2017, Georgie has since undertaken ethnographic research on rehabilitative culture in a male prison and been published in the UK Prison Service Journal. Georgie has co-published with fellow panellists Dr Kate Gooch and Prof James Treadwell on ongoing criminality in prison custody funded by four police and crime commissioners in the UK and is Network Coordinator for the Leicester Prisons Research Network at the University of Leicester. She has published in the Prison Research Journal.

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