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Social Relationships Between Prisoners in a Maximum Security Prison: Violence, Faith, and the Declining Nature of Trust

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 40 Issue: 5 Dated: September/October 2012 Pages: 413-424
Alison Liebling; Helen Arnold
Date Published
October 2012
12 pages
This study examined the staff-prisoner relationships at a single correctional facility in the United Kingdom to determine whether changes in penal policy had affected prisoners' levels of trust.
This study examined staff-prisoner relationships at a correctional facility in the United Kingdom and found that 1) faith, or faith identity, played an increasingly central and complex role in prisoner conflict, coupled with high levels of fear and violence; 2) many perceived that violent incidents had increased in frequency and severity over the past 2 years, due in part to changing cultural influences; 3) several prisoners believed that the "Muslim influence" in the prison was responsible for the increase in violence; 4) prisoners were often pressured to choose sides or strategically join the dominant group; 5) new Muslim subgroups were pushing back against the traditional prison regime; and 6) levels of trust among prisoners and between prisoners and staff were at their lowest levels. This study was conducted to determine how changes in penal policy and the increasingly diverse cultural influences in prison society had affected staff-prisoner relationships at a maximum security facility in the United Kingdom. Data for the study were obtained from extensive observation, a regular dialogue group with 14 prisoners, private interviews with 32 staff and 52 prisoners, focus groups, and surveys of 170 prisoners and 180 staff at a single long-term correctional facility in the United Kingdom. The results indicate that levels of trust among prisoners had decreased dramatically, and that longer sentences, fears of radicalization, and changes to traditional prison hierarchy have all helped to reshape the dynamics of prison life and raised the levels of fear and anxiety among prisoners. Implications for policy are discussed. Notes and references