A comparative analysis of prison violence in England, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

Dr Kate Gooch1, Dr  Katherine  Doolin2, Professor  James Treadwell3, Mrs Georgina Barkham-Perry1

1University Of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom,

2University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand,

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

This panel presents emerging findings from an innovative comparative study of prison violence in England, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. The panel presentations seek to identify and consider the similarities and differences in the nature, dynamics and causes of prison violence across the jurisdictions, while drawing out  four key themes:

  1. Prison governance, legitimacy and prison violence
  2. Identity, culture and the performance of masculinity within prison
  3. Prison gangs, the ‘Prison Firm’ and prison violence
  4. Drug use, drug dealing and prison violence

“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

Presenters: Dr Kate Gooch, University of Bath

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.


Dynamics, Manifestations and Performance of Violence in an Adult Male Prison in Aotearoa New Zealand

Presenters: Dr Katherine Doolin, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland

Aotearoa New Zealand has a large, and growing, prison population of whom the majority are Māori. This is a significantly disproportionate level of incarceration – Māori make up over half of those in prison despite only comprising around 15 per cent of the population (Department of Corrections, March 2019). Recent media coverage, and government and independent reports indicate that violence within prisons in Aotearoa remains a pressing and topical concern. Gang affiliations and gang violence within prison walls, incidents of self-harm and deaths of inmates, allegations of prisoner mistreatment, among other issues, have been reported. With this in mind, the paper explores the dynamics, manifestations and performance of prison violence in order to understand why, when and how violence occurs within prisons in Aotearoa. In so doing, the paper presents preliminary findings from a research study carried out at an adult male prison in Aotearoa for those on remand and sentenced. The aims of the paper are two-fold. First, the paper seeks to analyse the key causes of violence within the prison and, as part of this enquiry, questions whether violence is to do with the situational context and use of authority in the prison, or is a part of the way masculinity, self-expression and identity are performed in prison. Secondly, the paper considers the impact of violence and victimisation on inmates, prison officers, and the wider prison community, and reflects on what is needed to help create and maintain a safe and secure environment in prison.


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

Presenters: Professor James Treadwell, Staffordshire University

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.


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

Presenters: 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.


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.

Dr Katherine Doolin is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand, having previously taught at the University of Kent and University of Birmingham in the UK. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, funded by the British Academy. Katherine has published in the areas of criminal law and criminal justice, with a particular focus on restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, youth justice, and criminal liability for parental omissions.

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).

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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