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Care and the prison officer:

beyond turnkeys and care bears.

Sarah Tait holds an Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. We believe that now is the time to begin a radical reassessment of the role of the prison officer. If careers and job satisfaction are to be developed and enhanced, the picture of a turn-key or warder looking after people locked in cells for twenty hours each day must be replaced. It needs to be re-affirmed that the central role of a prison officer concerns the care of and contact with the inmates in his or her charge. The essential skills are listening, understanding, and responding to the needs of inmates.1 The notion of care in the prison a fundamentally coercive institution designed to punish is contested. While some have argued forcefully, as Judge Tumim did, that care should be the focus of prison officer work for the benefit of prisoners and officers, others have doubted that meaningful, respectful, and supportive relationships can develop within the material reality of prisons, where officers perform strip searches, open prisoners mail, monitor their relations with others and punish prisoners for infractions against institutional order.2 Care has been positioned as a central value of the Prison Service3 but also in direct opposition to other aims of imprisonment, such as control and security.4 That care bear serves as a pejorative term for some officers to denote peers who are perceived to tend to prisoners needs without due concern for security or for the victims of their crimes highlights the emotive and controversial nature of the word in the practice of prison work. These debates occur in a context where, in addition to maintaining safe and decent conditions, officers are charged with reducing re-offending, as well as keeping the public safe, as key objectives of the Prison Service.
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Prisons house a disproportionate number of socially marginalized and vulnerable people struggling with poverty, unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction and poor mental health. Seventy per cent of sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more mental health disorders 5 and twenty per cent of men and almost forty per cent of women entering custody say they have previously attempted suicide. 6 Current representations of offenders as dangerous have obscured the links between social exclusion and offending, and how the prison exacerbates systemic inequality. 7 As the criminal justice system is increasingly used as a solution to social problems and for political ends, commentators have noted that the prison (regrettably) has become responsible for meeting the complex health and social needs of an already disenfranchised population. Wacquant argues that the prison has become a perverse agency for the delivery of human services to the social refuse of the market society.8 As Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey observed that following welfare reforms that closed mental health institutions, the number of mentally ill prisoners increased seven-fold, such that care in the community has become care in

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HMCIP (1990) Report of a Review by Her Majestys Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales of Suicide and Self-Harm in Prison Service Establishments in England and Wales. London: HMSO, p. 34. Hannah-Moffat, K. (1995) Feminine fortresses: women-centred prisons? The Prison Journal, 75: 135-164, p. 153 Woolf, Lord Justice (1991) Prison Disturbances April 1990: Report of an Inquiry by the Rt. Hon Lord Justice Woolf (Parts I and II) and His Honour Judge Stephen Tumim (Part II), Cm. 1456. London: HMSO; Pilling, J. (1992) Back to basics: relationships in the prison service, Eve Saville Memorial Lecture to the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, reprinted in Perspectives on Prison: A Collection of Views on Prison Life, supplement to Annual Report of the Prison Service for 1991-2, London: HMSO; Bottoms, A.E. (1990) The aims of imprisonment, in D. Garland (ed.) Justice, Guilt and Forgiveness in the Penal System. Edinburgh: Centre for Theology and Public Issues, 3-36. Learmont, J. (1995) Review of Prison Service Security in England and Wales and the Escape from Parkhurst Prison on Tuesday 3rd January 1995. Cm. 3020. London: HMSO. Prison Reform Trust (2008). Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile June 2008, p. 29. Available online at Despite improvements in the care of prisoners with severe and enduring mental illness with the introduction of mental health inreach teams in 2002, this initiative has overlooked the less severe but no less challenging combination of primary mental health need, personality disorder, and substance misuse that predominates in prisoners (HMCIP (2007) The mental health of prisoners: a thematic review of the care and support of prisoners with mental health needs October 2007. London: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, p. 20). Prison Reform Trust (2008). Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile June 2008, p. 10. Available online at Bennett, J. (2008). The social costs of dangerousness: prison and the dangerous classes. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Kings College London. Available online at Wacquant, L. (2002) The curious eclipse of prison ethnography in the age of mass incarceration, Ethnography, 3(4): 371-397, p. 388. Prison Service Journal 3

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custody. 9 The prison is clearly neither the most desirable nor effective means of providing health care and social support. However, as the prison population continues to rise, the welfare responsibilities of prison officers require serious consideration. Research on mental health and preventing suicide and self-harm in prison has highlighted the role of the prison officer in alleviating (and creating) distress in prison.10 But there remains a lack of clarity in understanding what care means in prison, what role it plays in mitigating the pains of imprisonment which exacerbate social and psychological problems of prisoners, and how prison staff implement care in their work. Defining care poses conceptual and methodological challenges. A number of theoretical accounts on caring within relationship agree that care responds to (felt, if not expressed) need, and promotes positive change or well-being in the person who is cared for.11 Fisher and Tronto offer perhaps the broadest definition of caring as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we can live in it as well as possible.12 Others have resisted such generalisations. Peta Bowden refuses to abstract an essence of caring from her accounts of mothering, friendship, nursing and citizenship, arguing that understanding can be expressed by describing examples of various kinds of caring, attending to their contextual and particularistic constitution in relation to socio-historical conditions, their diversity, ambiguity and contingency.13 Scott and colleagues argue in the medical context that the tendency to define caring in a
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... as the prison population continues to rise, the welfare responsibilities of prison officers require serious consideration.

broadly inclusive fashion gives the impression that caring is an impossibly general, vague, mysterious, allencompassing, intractable quality that defies systematic description and analysis.14 Clarity and specificity is particularly important in the penal context, as fuzzy definitions of caring and the translation of caring ideals into practice have had dangerous and consequences. Liebling has argued that the elision of care and justice in the implementation of Lord Woolfs report contributed to lapses in security.15 The pastoralism that drove the reform of womens prisons by middle class philanthropists improved education and living conditions but encouraged a level of control and surveillance over women that surpassed that imposed on men, and recent efforts to implement a feminist ethic of care in Canadian womens prisons served to responsibilise women.16 In probation practice, Burnett and McNeill argue that confusion of one-to-one casework with psychodynamic counselling, which objectified offenders and was found to be ineffective in encouraging desistance, contributed to the demise of relationship-based practice with offenders.17 One approach to empirical investigations of caring is to ask people to describe their subjective experience of caring. Descriptions of caring in nursing practice include patience, understanding, physical proximity, and existential presence of the nurse. In this context, caring is an attitude and a behaviour of sitting down and really listening and responding to the unique concerns of the individual as a person of value; as a result of their stated and unstated needs being heard and responded to by


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Narey, M. (2002) Human rights, decency and social exclusion, Lecture delivered at the Institute for Human Rights. Available at Biggam, F. H. and Power, K.G. (1997) Social support and psychological distress in a group of incarcerated young offenders, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 41(3): 213-298; Liebling et al (2005) An Evaluation of the Safer Locals Programme. London: Home Office; Harvey, J. (2007) Young men in prison. Devon: Willan; HMCIP (2007) The mental health of prisoners: a thematic review of the care and support of prisoners with mental health needs October 2007. London: HM Inspectorate of Prisons; HMCIP (1990) Report of a Review by Her Majestys Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales of Suicide and Self-Harm in Prison Service Establishments in England and Wales. London: HMSO; Dear, G. E. (2008) Ten years of research into self-harm in the Western Australian prison system: where to next? (in press). Mayeroff, M. (1990 [1971]) On Caring. New York: HarperPerennial; Held, V. (2006) The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Gilligan, C. (1982) In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Womens Development. London: Harvard University Press. Fisher, Berenice and Tronto, Joan. (1990) Toward a feminist theory of caring, in Abel, E.K. and Nelson, M.K. (eds) Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Womens Lives. Albany, State University of New York Press, p. 40. Bowden, P. (1997). Caring: Gender-sensitive Ethics. London: Routledge, p. 184. A commentator of Bowdens work suggests that a description of caring between prisoners and their jailers would be a fruitful endeavour in this regard (p.18). Scott, R., Aiken, L. H., Mechanic, D., and Moravcsik, J. (2005) Organizational aspects of caring, The Millbank Quarterly 73 (1): 77-95, p. 80. Liebling, A., with H. Arnold (2004) Prisons and their Moral Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 36. Hannah-Moffat, K. (2001) Punishment in Disguise: Penal Governance and Federal Imprisonment of Women in Canada. London: University of Toronto Press. See also Zedner, L. (1991) Women, Crime, and Custody in Victorian England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Burnett, R. and McNeill, F. (2005) The place of the officer-offender relationship in assisting offenders to desist from crime, Probation Journal, 52: 221-242. Prison Service Journal Issue 180

the nurse, patients reported physical and mental relaxation, comfort, and a feeling of security.18 The therapeutic relationship or working alliance in mental health practice and the casework approach in probation similarly emphasise warmth, empathy, practical support and genuine and enduring concern, as well as respect and encouragement, in helping someone to face the difficult process of change.19 There are limitations to this subjectivist approach. Those who are cared for may simply describe what is on offer, rather than a notion of care that breaks with the preconceptions that contribute to their own subordination.20 I return to this point later, but argue that prioritising prisoners subjective understandings of their experiences of imprisonment is a valid and important project, notwithstanding the ways in which prisoners experiences may have shaped their conceptions of care. Further, it was not the aim of this research to provide an holistic or ideal definition of care; rather it was to describe the lived experience of care in prison, and to place this subjective understanding in the institutional context. This research21 aimed to understand, first, what care means to prisoners. In line with others, and particularly within the staff-prisoner relationship, care must be defined by the person who is cared for; wellmeaning action on the part of a carer does not constitute care unless it is experienced as caring by the person who is cared for.22 Second, I aimed to describe the extent to which (if at all) officers understand caring to be part of their job, and if so, what caring looks like in the daily practice of their work, and how officer and prisoner understandings of care compare. Third, I explored how institutional culture shapes the experience of care, and the role that gender plays in the experience and practice of care.23 To this end, the research was conducted in two contrasting

local prisons: a large, urban prison for men and a small, rural prison for women. During interviews with twentyone men and twenty women prisoners, I asked each to describe a time when an officer was caring towards you and to describe a time when an officer was uncaring towards you. To understand staff views and the institutional cultures, I conducted sustained fieldwork in each prison.24 I shadowed and interviewed forty-three main grade prison officers, as well as senior officers, managers, and specialist care workers. This article provides a brief overview of the research.25 Prisoners experiences of care and uncare26 The first important finding was that all prisoners interviewed described a common structure of the caring experience, despite significant variation in custodial experience, age, level of distress, and the inclusion of women and men in the sample. Prisoners varied in their emphasis of different aspects of care, and a few preferred to call it help or support; however, prisoners stories converged on the

Caring interactions were founded on relationships characterised by respect, fairness and sociability.

following description. Caring interactions were founded on relationships characterised by respect, fairness and sociability. Prisoners described these officers as communicating on a level with them. This included daily civilities, like saying good morning, casual conversation about family, sport, or the local area, and physically integrating with prisoners (playing pool, chatting on the wing). Caring officers demonstrated institutional empathy, or an appreciation of the structural constraints faced by prisoners (for example, overcrowding, canteen problems, and failing systems for contacting family and friends). These interactions communicated to prisoners that these officers viewed them as of equal moral worth and status; often against pervasive experiences of disrespect and status degradation, as one female prisoner described:

Rieman, D. (1997 [1986]) The essential structure of a caring interaction: doing phenomenology, in J.W. Creswell, Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. London: Sage, 271-298, p. 289. 19. Burnett, R. and McNeill, F. (2005) The place of the officer-offender relationship in assisting offenders to desist from crime, Probation Journal, 52: 221-242; Rex, S. (1999) Desistance from offending: experiences of probation, The Howard Journal, 358 (4): 366-383. 20. Many thanks to the anonymous reviewer who raised this point. 21 . completed as a PhD dissertation entitled Prison officer care for prisoners in one mens and one womens prison at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. I am grateful to the Trinity Hall Nightingale Foundation, the Universities UK Overseas Research Studentship, the Cambridge Overseas Trust, and the Institute of Criminology Wakefield Foundation for their support. 22. Mayeroff, M. (1990 [1971]) On Caring. New York: HarperPerennial; Noddings, N. (2003 [1984]) Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. 2nd edn. London: University of California Press. 23. Due to space constraints, the findings on the latter two issues are only briefly mentioned in this article. 24. ieldwork was carried out between August 2005 and April 2006. 25. Many thanks to Loraine Gelsthorpe for comments on drafts of this article. I aim to publish the full research as a book. 26. A full description of the process of arriving at a phenomenological description of care from prisoners accounts may be accessed online at Issue 180 Prison Service Journal 5

Hell speak to you on a level. Hell speak to anybody with respect. He treats everybody obviously the way he wants to be treated. He treats everybody nice. Hes not got that sort of looking down on you tone in his voice, like youre a criminal, Im the one in charge here, you do what I say, got that sort of tone in his voice, that general attitude, he hasnt got that. Hes nice. Really nice. These relationships built trust over time, enabling prisoners to approach an officer, or to accept an approach by an officer, and facilitated the disclosure of emotional or practical problems. A meaningful approach by an officer was conducted with discretion and interest, for example, taking a prisoner aside, or visiting her or him in their cell, in effect bracketing this interaction from the wing environment, signalling a suspension of more formal modes of officer-prisoner social exchange. The experience of being noticed was highly significant to many prisoners, who described a sense of safety from knowing someone was watching out for them. Upon disclosure of a problem, caring interactions were characterised by affective presence: officers were really with the prisoner, taking time to sit with them and to listen without judgment, communicating understanding and empathy, and providing reassurance and encouragement. Prisoners also described a sense that their agency and self-determination remained intact in these interactions: they were conducted on their terms, in their spaces, they revealed only what they were comfortable with, and they did not feel pushed to take one form of action or another, but encouraged that things would work out in the end. Caring officers importantly provided practical help, which ranged from the provision of basic entitlements, such as clean kit or a Visiting Order, to what was perceived to be special treatment, including a phone call from a private office, a cigarette paper the day before canteen, or in one case of a woman afraid of the dark, a night light. This form of care was not just practically helpful, but communicated a concrete

Underscored by all prisoners was the assertion that caring officers expressed a more intangible, yet detectable, caring attitude.

underpinning of caring sentiment, and officers gained trust by following through on such requests. In summary, care incorporated values, practices and attitude. The values of respect, interest, and responsiveness to the person were communicated through the practices of civility, sociability, bracketing, and offering practical help. Underscored by all prisoners was the assertion that caring officers expressed a more intangible, yet detectable, caring attitude. This attitude was experienced as genuine desire to help and to understand prisoners worldview. Caring interactions could not ameliorate all problems and distress experienced by prisoners, but could mitigate feelings of powerlessness, isolation, and worthlessness engendered by the prison environment. Care created security, or basic trust in the environment, laying the foundation for improved mood and well-being. One woman, who had attempted suicide several times in prison, described how a caring officer provided a lifeline for her: ST: It sounds like it makes a big difference when someone is like that with you.

Interviewee: Yeah, it does, it makes you feel a lot better, it makes you feel safe. You know, if you feel like someone does actually care, and that there is something worth carrying on for.

Prisoners who felt cared for expressed a desire to cooperate with staff in order to give something back. A few prisoners who experienced care from officers as well as wider institutional support for health and mental health needs, housing, and employment, described renewed hope for their future upon release.27 The structure, meaning, and effects of uncare were also explored. For prisoners, uncare meant being treated with indifference, being treated as of lower status and moral worth, and being treated unfairly. Uncaring interactions intensified feelings of powerlessness and isolation and prompted low mood, hostile and depressive rumination, violence towards staff, and hopelessness. As uncare intensified need rather than leaving need unmet, it was conceptualised as the opposite rather than the absence of care.


While this study was concerned with officer impact on prisoner well-being, and as a cross-sectional study cannot show the longer term effects of care and uncare on prisoners upon release, many prisoners were struggling with issues relating to their upcoming release, including managing their relationships with friends and family, finding accommodation, and staying off drugs. Maruna and Burnett provide compelling evidence linking hope and intention to desist with desistance (Burnett, R. and Maruna, S. (2004) So Prison works, does it? The criminal careers of 130 men released from prison under Home Secretary, Michael Howard, Howard Journal 43(4): 390-404). Sue Rexs account of experiences of probation that were linked with intention to desist resonate with prisoners descriptions of caring (Rex, S. (1999) Desistance from offending: experiences of probation, The Howard Journal 38 (4): 366-383). Prison Service Journal Issue 180

Figure 1: A Typology of Prison Officer approaches to Care.

Officer views and practices of care Most officers described care as the main part, or a large part, of their job, although officers varied in whether they called this care or something else (e.g. help, support, or basic prison officer work), and how they operationalised caring in practice. Using the prisoner description of care as a starting point, I categorised four distinct officer approaches to care, as well as one small group who described an absence of care in their work (see Figure 1).28 Officers in each group described common understandings of caring in their work, as well as common views of prisoners as a group, pathways into the job, and orientations towards managers. True Carers29 demonstrated an ethic of care in their work: caring organised their approach to the job. Their descriptions and observed practices of care fitted best with the prisoner description of care and prisoners unanimously described them as caring. These officers were confident, secure, and highly engaged in their work; they saw prisoners as people, just like me; and they expressed a high degree of emotional and institutional empathy for prisoners. Their understanding of the extent of their impact on prisoners was realistic; for example, it meant helping them get through the day or just being there to listen. Their caring was conceptualised as prisoner-led, as they responded to prisoners needs as prisoners understood them. This could involve quite extensive emotional involvement, as described by one officer: Well, she was a self-harmer. And she, like, hyperventilates a lot as well [] because she was on my wing, and I was her personal officer, I actually got to know her quite a lot. And one day she was hyperventilating quite badly [] I managed to calm her down, and
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we seemed to make sort of like a bonding, like made like a breakthrough. Because she wouldnt normally talk about why she selfharmed, and like, her past. And then I would just spend ten, fifteen minutes talking to her in the morning. As it went on, we were just getting like more and more into why she done things, and then I used to get her to write, when I was on leave, on my rest days, I used to get her to write down what she was feeling, and when I would come back, Id read through it, and then wed discuss different stuff. She eventually come towards the end of her term, she had stopped self-harming, so I was quite sort of, quite pleased. These officers were able to see distress where many other officers could or did not concealed by anger, indifference, or hostility often quickly diffusing volatile situations with a kind word or gentle enquiry (Whats up, lad?). They made active attempts to protect prisoners agency by supporting their own efforts to help themselves (for example, facilitating a phone call, rather than ringing on their behalf). The large number of officers in this group (fifteen; thirty-five per cent of the sample) is not representative of their prevalence but reflects my concerted effort to find, interview and observe caring officers. Officers ranged in length of service from six months to twenty-four years and in age from twenty-five to fifty-five, and men and women were equally represented. These officers described a circuitous route to the job, joining the Prison Service in search of meaningful work. While not exempt from stress and frustration, these officers described the greatest sense of job satisfaction of all the groups, and actively sought out opportunities and environments that suited their particular skills and interests in caring. Limited Carers provided a consistent, yet constrained, form of care, conceptualised as pragmatic and supportive. This group adopted a model of prison officer work that embodied prevailing Prison Service concerns with performance and decency. They aimed to fulfil their duties as officially laid out by the Prison Service, carried out their work in accordance with the rules, and were conscientious to implement anti-bullying and suicide prevention policy. They demonstrated engagement with and confidence in their work with prisoners to a point. Caring for prisoners took a pragmatic form; emotional affect was not absent from their work, but it was circumscribed. They viewed prisoners as socially vulnerable, and were identified as caring by conforming or overtly vulnerable prisoners.

A full description of the development of the typology is available online at I have called them True Carers to reflect the fit between their practices and prisoner descriptions, and to reflect the authentic and constant nature of their caring. Prison Service Journal 7

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Eight out of the eleven officers in this group were women and young in service (having served about three years on average) or working part-time hours due to family commitments. Old School officers had long histories with many prisoners and possessed the confidence of experience. Care was a complex and loaded term for most of these officers; they had worked through significant shifts in Prison Service values and practices, and through the several riots. However, prisoners identified them as caring and enjoyed their sociability and humour. They provided a reliable and trustworthy presence on the wing and prisoners could count on their responsiveness and straightforward approach. They provided limited emotional support, but showed genuine commitment to helping prisoners. Their caring was conceptualised as contractual and protective, as they offered assistance in exchange for compliance, and exhibited a paternal protectiveness for the fish out of water and those they had known throughout their service. Officers in this group were experiencing a degree of dissonance in their work. Their gruff exterior, traditional views of prisoners, and disdain for senior managers were at odds with their dedication to the job and their easy and confident manner in relating to prisoners. They felt out of place in a service where they felt that paperwork was valued over people, relationships with prisoners were too close, and discipline had been eroded (although they were often the last to enforce rules to the letter). The officers in this group were all men but one, with considerable time in the Service (sixteen to thirty years) and were all over forty-five years of age. Conflicted officers were highly involved in their work but described insecurity and conflict in working with prisoners from an early stage. For this group, prisoners were morally dangerous and care was conceptualised as teaching prisoners to be better people. While they expended considerable effort in helping deserving prisoners, their care was conditional on prisoner respect. They could turn suddenly from helpful to hostile, depending on their evaluation of prisoners behaviour. Their caring was characterised as moralising. While prisoners who had benefited from their help described these officers as caring, many experienced them as untrustworthy and two-faced. Their insecurity was also reflected in their high level of need for respect and personal care from their managers. Conflicted officers
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... prisoners who felt safe felt cared for, and that responding to prisoners needs was integral to keeping the peace.

ranged in length of service from one to eighteen years and in age from twenty-six to forty-five. Only three of the eight officers in this group were women, and they exhibited less conflict and insecurity than the men did. True Carers, Limited Carers, and Old School officers integrated the provision of care and the maintenance of order. These officers generally felt safe and deployed their personal authority and legitimate power to maintain order, recognising that prisoners who felt safe felt cared for, and that responding to prisoners needs was integral to keeping the peace. Conflicted officers, however, found it difficult to reconcile care with their pre-occupation with control. Their definition of care was often conflated with control and their caring was contingent upon control prisoners had to conform to their personal and often very specific codes of behaviour in order to receive help. Conflicted officers did not feel safe in their environment, and heavily relied on external means of control (e.g. the cell door, a show of force, or peer presence). This description of ideal types does not capture the complexities and situatedness of many officers views and observable behaviour. I do not suggest that these groups are permanent or simply personality-based, but are to some extent contingent on wing cultures, management support, training, and the work-life history of each person, including experience of reward and of trauma. While True Carers described seeking out environments, usually smaller wings with a caring function, which supported their approach,30 Conflicted officers gravitated to positions of responsibility that only confirmed their notions of prisoners as dangerous (for example, becoming a hostage negotiator, or supervising prisoner movement). Further research into the career trajectories of prison officers would be needed to appreciate the role of structure and agency in determining officer orientations to caring at any given time. The dangers of caring A final group of officers described a significant shift in their outlook and approach to their work, and for the purposes of comparison, I identified them as damaged by their work. Each described a sense that the values and approach that they began the job with had changed such that they were no longer able to derive satisfaction or meaning from their work. They ranged in length of service from five to twenty-five years, but this

Notably most True Carer women officers working at the prison for women were working on the largest and most demanding wing. Prison Service Journal Issue 180

shift had occurred quickly at some point in their career. All had either worked in high demand and high-risk environments with women prisoners who self-harm or had responded to a series of suicides at significant times. All had felt out of their depth and unsupported by line and senior managers directly following the incidents. Some withdrew, unable to attend fully to prisoners needs, leaving colleagues with more work. Others described an excessive focus on control and were observed to be engaging in dangerous behaviours towards prisoners (including swearing, ignoring distress, goading prisoners to self-harm, and making violent threats). These officers were experiencing panic attacks, persistent disturbing images, hyper-alertness, bitterness, and struggles with identity, although none were considering leaving the Prison Service. They were engaging in minimal (although not entirely absent) caring activities; indeed, some exacerbated prisoners need and escalated tensions on their wing. While many officers experienced similar stressors without such damaging results, it is important to emphasise that officers start from different positions in relation to their ability to cope with their work, and that for this group, stressors had occurred at significant times in their career (for example, responding to a series of suicides close together, or being moved to a high demand wing when overloaded with other responsibilities). I suggest that under sustained emotional stress, Conflicted officers became aggressive, while others starting from a more secure position were more likely to withdraw. True Carers were the most resilient; however, they were not immune to the consequences of their emotional labour, and described becoming robotic when their ability to restore themselves throughout their shifts and on their days off was compromised.

The institutional shape of care The prisoner structure of care and the officer typology of prison officer approaches to care were remarkably consistent at each research site. However, there were institutional differences in the experience and availability of care in each prison, and by wing. Using relevant items from the prisoner MQPL survey,31 I created a measure of how caring a prison is, based on prisoners views on two composite dimensions: Caring Relationship (which captures views on respectful and sociable relationships with officers) and Caring Interaction (which addresses access to specific caring interactions) (see Table 1). On average, women reported positive evaluations of both Caring Relationship and Caring Interaction, while men reported a neutral score on Caring Relationship and a negative score on Caring Interaction. It is important to note that there was substantial variation by wing, particularly at the prison for women, where differences in wing design and culture were starker. Differences in levels of care were attributed to multiple and interacting institutional factors. The first was prisoner gender. Although there was variation amongst the women and men interviewed, in general, women expressed greater openness of vulnerability and willingness to engage with staff many wanted to share their feelings and experiences and for these to be understood and validated by staff. Men placed greater value on sociability with officers as a means of acceptance, and this required less emotional investment from officers. Officers working with women prisoners tended to see them as troubled, and thus as more entitled to caring responses; men were sometimes explicitly censored and shamed by officers

The prisoner structure of care and the officer typology of prison officer approaches to care were remarkably consistent at each research site.

Table 1: Differences in Levels of Care in Each Prison Composite Dimension Caring Relationship Caring Interaction Prison for women mean score (n=68) 3.58 3.38 Prison for men mean score (n=93) 3.02 2.81 t 5.793 4.921 p <.001 <.001

NB: Scores lie between 1 and 5; 3 indicates a neutral response

31. The Measuring the Quality of Prison Life prisoner survey captures prisoner views on hard to measure aspects of prison life, such as respect, decency and fairness (see Liebling A. with Arnold, H. Prisons and their moral performance. Oxford: OUP). A version of this questionnaire is now regularly administered by the Standards Audit Unit in all prisons in England and Wales. Towards the end of my fieldwork in each prison, I asked a randomly selected sample of prisoners from each wing to complete this questionnaire. Prison Service Journal 9

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Figure 2. Estimated Proportions of Officers of each type in each Prison.

or two Damaged officers on these large wings, whose views if not practice were supported by the large number of confident, male Conflicted officers, created hostile climates for prisoners and for Limited Carers, who did not have the confidence or perceived support to challenge illegitimate practices. The limits of care in prison Care was constrained in both prisons. While all prisoners could describe a caring interaction, these were sometimes singular incidents offered by one officer, which stood out against a climate of indifference, hostility and disrespect. In a prison-wide quality of life survey administered as part of the research, just over half of prisoners on the most caring wing in the womens prison agreed that they felt treated as a person of value and cared about most of the time. This dropped to a mere ten per cent in the least caring wing in the mens prison. True Carers were in the minority at both prisons and constituted at most one third of officers at the more caring prison. Nearly half of officers in both prisons were described as Conflicted vocal and influential staff who exhibited essentially othering views of prisoners and demanded that prisoners conform to their standards of eligibility in order to receive help. The presence of one or two Dangerous officers on a wing supported cultures of control that entrapped some prisoners in cycles of violence and psychological anguish. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners could describe uncaring interactions with officers. Uncaring interactions affected all prisoners in negative ways, but had the worst consequences for those with high levels of distress and women, intensifying hopelessness and feelings of low selfworth. Trust was built slowly by care, and uncare could quickly undermine trust in officers as a group. There were multiple structural impediments to the provision and experience of care. Prisoners lived in a climate of fear and mistrust in others generated by forced confinement with strangers, and were often unwilling to risk revealing their vulnerabilities. Further, many prisoners felt it should be part of an officers job to care, but paradoxically, needed care to be motivated out of genuine interest, rather than professional obligation. In these busy local prisons, the most committed officers admitted they could not keep up with demand for care. Lack of time out of cell prevented access to officers, and lack of time out of cell with nothing to do meant officers could be overwhelmed with requests.

when expressing their distress.32 Second, the gender demographics of each prisons staff were important. At the prison for men, in line with the national average for mens prisons, female officers made up only twenty per cent of staff. Women officers tended to adopt the Limited position here; they were able to justify their positive work with prisoners as outlined in official policy while expressing regret that they were not allowed to do more without appearing soft to male colleagues. Third, smaller wings and units in both prisons allowed officers and prisoners to get to know one another better. Half of the population of the womens prison was housed in small wings holding about forty prisoners, while the smallest wing at the prison for men held over one hundred. Finally, the proportion of officer types in each prison, and where these types were deployed in each prison, accounted for the culture of care on each wing (see Figure 2). True Carer and Conflicted officers were most involved in their work, and thus had most impact in setting the tone of interaction with prisoners on their wing. While at the prison for women, the forty per cent of Conflicted officers were offset by a substantial number of True Carer staff (nearly a third); at the prison for men, there were fewer True Carer staff and a large body of Limited and Old School officers who tended to be influenced by more dominant staff. The deployment of caring staff around the prison was equally important. Each small wing at the prison for women had a strong (male) caring leader, and several female caring leaders were working together on the larger, more demanding wing. At the prison for men, the small number of True Carer men and women had sought work on specialist care units, as they felt unable to sustain their caring approach when they were outnumbered and unsupported on the large wings. The presence of one


A more acceptable way to express distress for men was to kick off; I observed a compassionate adjudication where a man garnered sympathy rather than censure from landing officers and governors alike for smashing his cell after he was given a long sentence. Some women reported receiving uncaring responses unless they acted like a victim and conformed to stereotypical notions of female distressed behaviour. Prison Service Journal Issue 180


For distressed prisoners33 and women, the limits of care in the prison environment were felt more keenly. Distressed prisoners found it harder to approach officers, and often relied on a single officer whom they trusted. The impact of this caring improved their ability to cope, and could temporarily lift their mood, but deeper effects, such as improved confidence, were only experienced by prisoners with greater personal resources to begin with. Distressed prisoners and women described and sought a greater affective depth of caring, requiring more time and consistent displays of interest in them and in their problems. On large wings, it was impossible for officers to meet this level of need. Uncaring interactions had more significant negative impact on distressed prisoners and women, and compromised their sense of self-worth. Where prisoners experienced and were observed to be under stricter control and where relationships with staff were more distant, understandings of care were more constrained. On these wings, prisoners sometimes defined receiving basic entitlements, or not being sworn at, as caring. Elsewhere, where caring was more normal, prisoners described more expansive definitions, including forming a meaningful connection with officers. This observation speaks to the issue of the limitations of subjective understandings of care raised earlier. However, comparing subjective accounts of care in different prison environments was illuminating. Further, prisoners critically evaluated the care they experienced on their wing with what they had experienced elsewhere in prison, in their communities, with social services, and with partners, families, and friends. Imprisonment is not a homogenous experience, and the prison does not stand outside of other institutions. While prisoners described a common structure of the caring experience in prison, the experience and availability of care in prison was tenuous and depended on the exigencies of prison life. Rethinking the role of the prison officer Empirical investigation into the lived experience of caring and being cared for in the prison environment

Care was a meaningful concept to prisoners and carried important positive effects ...

offers a way of thinking through some of the dilemmas posed at the beginning of this article. Care was a meaningful concept to prisoners and carried important positive effects; alleviating to some extent the psychological distress caused by imprisonment: feelings of powerlessness, isolation, and worthlessness. Describing care in prison has also shown what it is not, and where it cannot flourish: in overcrowded large wings with impoverished regimes and poor management oversight. Prisoners revealed the extent, quality, and impact of less overt, yet insidious and damaging experiences of uncaring interactions. Clarifying what prisoners mean by care revealed that many officers were using a caring approach, whether they embraced the term or not. Those with a more caring approach derived greater meaning from their work. Caring could be integrated with other officer responsibilities: it supported the maintenance of order, and may be important for the process of desistance. Understanding the role of care in prison officer work calls attention to its attendant emotional effects, which carries important structural implications for providing ways for officers to express and work through the anxieties and strain they may feel doing care work. While some officers adapted well and quickly to caring roles, and found mentors and environments that supported their approach, others struggled with their confidence early on. That caring orientation corresponded to views of prisoners as a group suggests that the way prisoners are talked about throughout recruitment, training, and mentoring in the early years of service is of vital importance. Demystifying and normalising care may help managers to communicate clear expectations of prison staff, as well as to challenge understandings of care which may be experienced by prisoners as harmful. The view supported by prisoners and officers interviewed for this research is that developing caring relationships that help prisoners cope with imprisonment forms the basis of an aspirational role of the prison officer. Adequately conceptualised from prisoners standpoint, care is an important concept to place at the heart of prison officer work.


I asked interviewees to complete the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), a screening tool for psychological disorder. For the purposes of comparison, those scoring above the mean for prisoners interviewed were called distressed (as opposed to coping). Prison Service Journal 11

Issue 180