Staff and order in prisons

Drake, Deborah (2007). Staff and order in prisons. In: Bennett, Jamie; Crewe, Ben and Wahidin, Azrini eds. Understanding Prison Staff. Cullompton Devon, UK: Willan Publishing, pp. 153–167.



Order in prisons has been defined by Liebling as: ‘the degree to which the prison environment is structured, stable, predictable and acceptable’ (Liebling 2004: 291). A prison can appear orderly in terms of its regime, organisation and practices, but orderliness can be achieved through overt control and without the consent of prisoners. The terms ‘order’ and ‘control’ can easily be confused in prisons, and the difference between ‘orderliness’ and an agreed upon state of order in prisons is crucial. As King suggests, ‘there is always a tendency for prison officials, who are liable to be held to account, to use a lexicon stressing security and control whereas those not so accountable — academic analysts and prison reformers — prefer a vocabulary which emphasises custody and order’ (1997: 45). ‘Orderliness’ can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms (e.g. routines, procedures or rule-enforcement) and the means through which staff achieve ‘security and control’ differ from approaches that seek ‘custody and order’. Control can be a means through which order is restored (if it has been lost) or disorder prevented, but order in prisons (as in society) should be defined in reference to the implicit social contract which exists between the population (prisoners) and the authorities (prison officers). Sparks, Bottoms and Hay (1996) define order, in part, as follows: ‘an orderly situation is any long-standing pattern of social relations (characterised by a minimum level of respect for persons) in which the expectations that participants have of one another are commonly met …’ (ibid.: 119; emphasis added). This definition is clearly suggestive of a ‘social contract’ notion of order where prisoners and staff agree to an implicit contract and where the expectations that each group has of the other are generally met. In this way, to achieve ‘order’ (as opposed to control) in prisons, the pattern of social relations must be acceptable (as Liebling's definition suggests) to both staff and prisoners.

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