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Male Prisoners' Orientations Towards Female Officers in an English Prison

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2006 Pages: 395-421
Ben Crewe
Date Published
October 2006
27 pages
This article describes the orientations of male prisoners towards female prison officers in an English prison.
The majority of female prison officers seek to downplay the role of gender and sexuality in their occupational practices, preferring to be judged according to the same criteria as male officers. While overtly gendered dialogues were more frequently and explicitly articulated in relation to female officers, they also influenced relations between prisoners and male officers. In depriving men of autonomy, family roles, and heterosexual relations, imprisonment threatens a number of aspects of male identity. In placing men under the formal supervision of women, it also inverts the power dynamic that many prisoners take for granted in their relations with women outside prison. Female officers become a lightning rod for issues of masculine identity and insecurity. Those prisoners who saw female officers primarily as officers rather than women tended either to be experienced prisoners who identified with a former culture in which prisoners and officers had little contact or interaction or they were younger prisoners whose involvement in the prison’s informal economy both reflected and necessitated anti-authority attitudes and behaviors. Given the sensitivities of prisoners’ issues of power and desire and the ways that sexual and familial identities were projected into female officers, one would expect that finding the right balance between good and inappropriate relations would be difficult for uniformed female staff. Drawing on material collected as part of a semi-ethnographic study of an English prison for men, this article describes the orientations of male prisoners towards female prison officers. The primary aim was to explore the role of masculinity in modern penal culture. References