Talking about Prison Work: Exploring Recent Developments in Research on Prison Staff

13 May

The Irish Prison Service College and Dublin Institute of Technology School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences are delighted to host a half-day conference on 23 June 2015 on prison staff research, supported by the Irish Research Council.

Attendance is free, but you must register via Eventbrite here.

The role of the modern prison officer is undoubtedly one of considerable significance within prisons and across prison systems. While officers occupy important roles in the context of the implementation of policy and the legitimacy of the prison, a paucity of robust prison officer research has persisted for many years. Described as the ‘invisible ghosts of penality’, prison officers and their culture have not been subjected to the same rigours of empirical analysis as the institution of the prison and the prisoners who reside within it. Recent years have seen academic interest in prison staff flourish, and a burgeoning body of research has begun to emerge internationally. A number of early career researchers, both in Ireland and abroad, are currently engaged in exploring diverse aspects of the working lives and cultures of prison staff. This conference aims to promote and explore these recent advancements in understandings of prison staff.

This event will bring together prison and associated staff, policymakers, academics, those who work with prison staff and prisoners, and all those interested in prison work and prison life to discuss developments in this area and build networks for future collaboration. Taking place at the Irish Prison Service College, Portlaoise, this event will promote public debate on current scholarship on prison staff. Discussion will be guided by presentations from researchers across a range of disciplines and jurisdictions.

Confirmed speakers and chairpersons include: Colette Barry, Dublin Institute of Technology, Joe Garrihy, University College Dublin, Dominic Kelly, Queen’s University Belfast, Emma Walker, Birmingham City University, Sinéad Meade, Queen’s University Belfast, Prof Azrini Wahidin, Nottingham-Trent University, and Dr Mary Rogan, Dublin Institute of Technology. A full programme will be published shortly.

Attendance is free, but places are limited. Registration will be from 9.00 am – 9.30 am. The conference will conclude with lunch for all delegates at 1.00 pm.

 This conference is funded by the Irish Research Council and the Irish Prison Service.

#Blog Christian Perrin: ‘Accumulating Meaning, Purpose, and Positivity ‘Drip-by-Drip’ in Prisons’

13 May

Accumulating Meaning, Purpose, and Positivity ‘Drip-by-Drip’ in Prisons

A growing body of research argues that in order to enhance offenders’ chances of successfully re-joining society and desisting from offending, prison should be less punitive and more focussed on rehabilitation. Indeed, substantial evidence suggests that punitive prison environments may actually increase recidivism (see Gendreau, 2012; Raphael, 2009). Such studies emphasise the need for ‘purposeful activity’ in prisons, and schemes that enable offenders to positively contribute towards their own rehabilitation (Herbert & Garnier, 2008). A recent report from the Ministry of Justice has emphasised the importance of ‘meaningful prison work’ and ‘active citizenship’ (Secretary of State for Justice, 2010). Recently a growing body of research has begun to explore what might constitute ‘meaningful work’ in prisons. Such research generally encourages constructive prison settings where offenders can form strong social bonds and meaningful relationships (Edgar, Jacobson & Biggar, 2011; Stevens, 2012). Peer-support schemes appear to represent a source for such positivity (Dhaliwal &Harrower, 2009; Perrin & Blagden, 2013).

Researching the Impact of Peer-Support in Prisons

The research project summarised here investigated one peer-support scheme, the Samaritans Prison Listener scheme, which operates in prisons across the UK. The research was inspired by my personal experience of volunteering with Samaritans. I experienced such deep realisations and attitude changes through listening to people’s innermost thoughts and feelings. This prompted my curiosity about how such experiences might impact on prisoners.

Offending is often associated with decreased empathy, communication skills deficits, and difficulties both in establishing strong social ties, and  in regulating emotions (Lohrlr, Farrington and Justice, 1998; Ward and Gannon, 2007). As such, it is plausible that participating in a scheme centred on principles of empathy and emotional wellbeing could have a magnified effect on offending populations. This assumption informed the main aim of the project: to explore the impact of ‘being’ a prison listener.

In 1991, the Prison Service, in collaboration with Samaritans, established the Listener scheme to help tackle suicide. Via the scheme, prisoners suffering distress, despair and suicidal feelings are able to call on Listeners and talk face-to-face about their feelings anonymously and without judgement. Prisoners wishing to become volunteer Listeners go through several weeks of training. Once fully trained, the Listeners may be called out several times a day to provide emotional support to those in need. As well as listening, members of the scheme also meet weekly to discuss issues relating to ‘caller care’ and the general running of the scheme (Foster and Magee, 2011).

The Listener scheme is currently the foremost peer support scheme in operation in UK prisons (Samaritans, 2012). However, research is limited; a significant gap in knowledge exists relating to how Listeners conceive their roles. Only one study has explicitly addressed what listening actually means to prisoners (Dhaliwal & Harrower, 2009). In that study, participants demonstrated elevated self-confidence, personal growth, greater empathy, and respect for prison staff as a result of Listener roles. Although being a Listener appears to elicit positive change within prisoners, there is a paucity of research specifically exploring what it is about listening that prompts change and what this change means to Listeners. The aim of the present research was to bridge this gap.

To this end, six male prisoners were interviewed. Transcripts were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. Analysis revealed two super-ordinate themes (‘personal transformation’ and ‘countering negative prison emotions’) and several subordinate themes. Whilst it is only possible to provide a sample of the analysis here, the full paper (Perrin, C., & Blagden, N. (2014). Accumulating meaning, purpose and opportunities to change ‘drip by drip’: the impact of being a listener in prison. Psychology, Crime & Law, 20(9), 902-920.) can be requested at christian.perrin@ntu.ac.uk.

Findings
Super-ordinate Themes/Subordinate Themes

  • Personal Transformation
  • Countering Negative Prison Emotions
    • New Me: Developing a Positive Self-image
  • Desire to Give Something Back
  • Gaining Perspective
  • Distraction / Channelling Energy
  • Development of Meaning and Purpose

‘New Me’

All participants appeared to experience their listening role as a method of evidencing and understanding change. Theorists propose that desistance requires personal maturity, new social bonds and a personal subjective narrative shifts which offenders build around these changes (Farrall et al, 2011). Research surrounding offenders’ experiences of desistance highlights how they tend to create and internalise a self-narrative which helps them understand the changes they experience and why offending no longer ‘fits’ into their life story (Vaughan, 2007). This self-narrative assists the development of a ‘new me’ but, crucially, needs to be combined with a key ‘turning point’ (Sampson & Laub, 2005). Listening appeared to constitute a turning point for participants:

If you’re out through life causing destruction and distress to people and yourself, you can quite quickly fill your bank up with negative ways of thinking and negative thoughts… It’s like having a big tub of dirty water, that’s negative. And then someone gives you a positive drip, and eventually, with more drips, the water gets less murky, overflows, and then it’s just nice and clean. That’s what happens basically. It’s learning to accept that positive (‘Steve’).

My whole concept now is to help rather than hinder, and that’s because of the scheme, and I’m not just saying that. That is genuine… I didn’t give a shit before I was a listener. I would argue with staff. I was a right so and so… Even my probation, he’d go “oh I feel so agitated when I talk to you”. And then in one of his reports, when I had joined the listeners, he said “Cliff is now approachable, he’s mellowed out, and we can talk”. I think it was because I’d learned respect (‘Cliff’).

Desire to Give Back

Along with the establishment of ‘new selves’ and positive self-images, participants also demonstrated a desire to ‘give something back’. In exploring crime desistance, Maruna (2001) posits that offenders who are ‘going straight’ construct a ‘redemption script’. This  is typified by a desire to ‘give something back’ and an acceptance that although they cannot change the past, they can contribute positively in the future. These propositions have been linked with successful reintegration (Marsh, 2011). During every interview, participants gave descriptions of how they thought they had given something back. These thoughts provided them with deep satisfaction:

You could see someone was upset or whatever, and after you speak to them they’ve perked up a bit… they start relaxing a bit and they say “yeah, I’m ready to go back out to the prison”… and when you see it happen it makes you feel good because you’ve done something good and given something back. I’m not saying it makes up for the crime you’ve committed, but you are giving something back and you’re turning something into a positive. Even if it’s just for that hour or that day, you know you’ve tried (‘Andy’)

Development of Meaning and Purpose

Every participant expressed that their Listener role provided meaning and purpose in prison. In 2010, the Prison Reform Trust asserted that ‘prisons should not allow offenders to simply mark their time in a purposeless fashion. Rather, prisons should be seen as places where prisoners are engaged in challenging and meaningful work’ (Edgar, Jacobson & Biggar, 2011). The Listener role certainly appears to help prisoners establish meaning and build purposeful lives in prison. Self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) is useful in explaining why having meaning is so crucial for prisoners. The theory holds that humans naturally seek autonomy, connectedness and have an intrinsic desire to effect the environment around them, not just exist within it. When these needs are not met, individuals construct illegitimate substitute strategies. However, when these needs are met, individuals become motivated to reflect and realise change (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Through Listener roles, participants were able to generate meaning and purpose. The following extracts highlight how participants moulded themselves important roles and gained a feeling of being needed.

It’s meant the world to me and I’m not gonna lie. And I think that’s come across, and it has meant the world to me cos it’s helped me a great deal. But I’d hope that I’ve helped other people, so it’s worked dual. (Ben)

These people have spilled their heart out to you. And you’ve got that, in a little box, just there, never to be revealed. So he’s put his life (pause)… He’s took everything and he’s put it in this basket here (hand gestures a box and passes the box to the researcher). “Please look after it” (whispers). That’s what it’s like. Like, don’t let no one see it. You’ve gotta protect that. (Kyle)

Conclusions and Implications

Broadly, this research furthers existing understandings of how change can occur through peer support schemes. More specifically, this research has helped bridge the gap in knowledge surrounding the Listener scheme and the effects on the Listeners themselves. Through listening, prisoners benefit from purposeful activity during their time in prison, a chance to acquire new skills, earning respect from others, building positive self-concepts, and an opportunity to give something back. Each of these benefits has the potential to encourage desistance, be it via the ‘knifing off’ of unwanted pasts (Sampson and Laub, 2005), the reversal of negative thinking cycles (Maruna, 2004), the satisfaction of desires through prosocial means (Ward, 2002), or via other psychological mechanisms. Although the Listener role cannot claim responsibility for reduced offending, becoming a Listener in prison appears to encourage desistance by surfacing the ‘good’ in individuals and allowing them to positively ‘re-story’ their lives. These implications may hold true for other peer-support schemes, and the concept of prison peer-support in general.

Fundamentally, adopting a Listener role in prison seems to help equip prisoners with the tools required for a productive prison life and a potentially successful societal re-entry. It seems necessary to present the Listener scheme (and other peer-led programmes) as a resource HM Prison Service should encourage. Furthermore, there may be significant value in understanding the benefits of listening in terms of therapeutic applications. Although this research does not claim that Listener (and other peer-support) schemes produce and sustain desistance, they certainly represent one avenue to catalyse change.

Questions, comments, and paper requests are very welcome (christian.perrin@ntu.ac.uk).

Blogger bio:

Christian Perrin is a PhD researcher at Nottingham Trent University. His research focuses on peer-support schemes in prisons, and how prisoners who uphold peer-support roles may contribute towards their own rehabilitation. As such, the research is very much connected to the desistance and prisoner well-being literature. Christian carried out a study exploring the Samaritans ‘Listener’ scheme in 2012 as part of an MSc in Forensic Psychology. Findings from this study highlighted how having a meaningful role in prison can enable prisoners to progress through their sentences more constructively. This research is now being expanded as part of a PhD.

This blog was drawn from Christian’s paper at the Irish Postgraduate Criminology Conference in which he won the inaugural IPRT Postgraduate Prize.

Michael O’Flaherty: Protecting the Human Rights of Prisoners

12 May

Professor Michael O’Flaherty will give the 13th Annual Liam Minihan Lecture this week, Thursday 14 May, in Wynn’s Hotel, on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1. Coffee and tea will be served from 6.30pm, Fergal Black will introduce Professor O’Flaherty at 7.15 and the lecture will be kicking off at 7.30pm.

Please see the invitation here: Liam_Minihan_Invitation

Lecture: Addressing the Ageing Crisis in Criminal Justice Healthcare

12 May

Dr. Brie Williams, of the University of California, San Francisco, will be speaking at a public lecture in Dublin onAddressing the Ageing Crisis in Criminal Justice Healthcare: Using medical evidence to motivate policy change’.

The number of older adults dealt with by the criminal justice system is rising across the world, and poses major challenges for all criminal justice agencies. This lecture will provide an opportunity to learn about best practice and developments internationally on the topic of how older adults are best dealt with by police, prosecution, prison, probation and aftercare services, and in sentencing.

The lecture will be held on Monday 8 June, from 11-12 in Room 5034 of DIT Aungier Street, Dublin.

Attendance is free but please register via Eventbrite here.

For more information on Dr Williams please see here: Addressing the Ageing Crisis

Femininity in Dissent: The Women of Armagh

30 Apr

Professor Azrini Wahidin will speak on Wednesday 10 June, in Nottingham Trent University, on ‘Femininity in Dissent: The Women of Armagh‘.

The lecture will take place on 10 June, in the Newton Building, from 5.30-7.30. To book your place register on the NTU website here.

Details:

During the conflict in Northern Ireland, the criminal justice system played a central and visible role in containing, managing and repressing social disorder and, hence, became associated indelibly with issues of the state.

Although much has been written about the recent political struggles in Northern Ireland, too often it has been women’s experiences which have been silenced and under explored. This lecture will chart the contours of women’s experiences of imprisonment by contextualising the history of Armagh Prison and the central role it played during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

This paper is based on the testimonies of former female ex-combatants of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). It will examine key moments in the history of the imprisonment of the Armagh women (such as the No Wash Protest and strip searching). By using these examples Azrini will examine how subjectivity, gender, the corporeal body and resistance were articulated in situations of heightened political violence. The impact of the conflict opened spaces for women to place traditional constructions of femininity in dissent. The narratives of the ex-combatants will illustrate how violence became institutionalised and operated ‘through strategies about which people seldom talk: namely the mechanisms of fear’ (Poulantzas 1978:83).

Professor Wahidin has written 13 books from leading textbooks, edited collections to single authored monographs. Her most recent publication is her book: Ex-Combatants, Gender and Peace in Northern Ireland: Women, Political Protest and the Prison Experience.

 

Apply now for MSc/PGDip Youth Justice at Queen’s University Belfast

27 Apr

This innovative programme has been designed for those who want to advance their understanding of youth issues, youth offending and social and criminal justice responses to young people. The course is delivered through a blended learning approach which includes a mixture of face-to-face and online learning, traditional lectures, workshops, condensed weekend module and online discussion forums.

Course Content

The MSc and PG Diploma can be completed over 1 year full-time and 3 years part-time.

The MSc comprises of a number of core modules. There are also a number of optional modules available for students to choose from across a range of relevant subject areas. MSc students also complete a research-based dissertation on an aspect of youth justice.

The PG Diploma involves the same range of subject choices with a mix of core and optional modules, but students are not required to complete a dissertation.

Course Features

The course has been designed to encourage students to consider the interface between social justice, criminal justice and children’s rights.

The course ensures students receive a grounding in the field of youth justice and are also provided with opportunities to benefit from inter-disciplinary teaching and learning.

Building capacity – The course will equip graduates with a range of knowledge and skills of direct relevance to work in areas including youth justice, youth and community work, criminal justice, public policy and research. For participants already employed in these areas, the programme will build on existing skills and knowledge and enhance the capacity to engage in comparative analysis alongside international standards.

For further details on the programme contact: Dr Nicola Carr (n.carr@qub.ac.uk) or Dr Siobhán McAlister (s.mcalister@qub.ac.uk)

Click here to: download a prospectus or to apply for the course

Changing Ireland, Changing Law

26 Apr

‘Changing Ireland, Changing Law’ is a new IRC-funded project, led by Dr Mary Rogan, of DIT Law, and Professor Ivana Bacik, of the School of Law TCD, alongside community partners: Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), National Women’s Council (NWCI), Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen). The project seeks to explore the impact of the law on  society through an examination of the societal benefits which have flowed from individual cases, the research project will be hosting a series of seminars looking at topics from sexuality to immigration.

The first seminar will be held on Friday 8 May in Trinity College Dublin, ‘Women Changing Law, Changing Society’.

Speakers:

  • Professor Aileen McColgan (King’s College London);
  • Orla O’Connor (NWCI); Mary O’Toole SC; Professor Yvonne Scannell (TCD);
  • Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington (to be confirmed).

The seminar will focus on legal cases which have brought about social change for women in Ireland. Speakers will explore both the experience of taking such cases, and the impact that these cases have had.

This seminar series aims to explore the relationship between legal action and social change, and to promote debate on how public interest litigation has influenced or contributed to social change in Ireland, on a range of issues. The seminar series forms part of a joint DIT/TCD legal research project entitled ‘Changing Ireland, Changing Law’ (CICL) funded by the Irish Research Council, along with additional contribution from the Trinity College Dublin Equality Fund and Arts & Social Sciences Benefactions Fund.

Lunch will be provided at 1pm.

Attendance is free, but places are limited. To register for a place, please RSVP to: cicl@tcd.ie

Venue: Room 2.03, Áras an Phiarsaigh, Trinity College Dublin

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