Prison Officers and Prison Culture

Helen Arnold, Alison Liebling, Sarah Tait

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Research on prison life tends to neglect prison officers, casting them as monolithic, male, power-hungry enforcers of authority. Such accounts are sociologically impoverished and deeply misleading. Prison work is complex and varied, and those at the coal face underuse their authority in the interests of their peacekeeping tasks far more often than they overuse it. Talk is central to everything officers do. It is impossible to understand the experience of prison life for prisoners, or the significant variations between prisons, without a clearer understanding of the role of the prison officer. In this chapter we draw selectively on several studies recently conducted by the authors on the nature of prison work (Liebling), high-performing prison officers (Arnold) and the role of prison officers in suicide prevention (Liebling and Tait). We provide an overview of the current conditions of employment of prison officers in the UK, describe the process of becoming a prison officer and reflect on what prison officer work looks like at its best, and within the current climate of contestability and privatization. The final part of the chapter explores prison officer culture, and one attempt to operationalize and measure the existence and impact of prison officer culture in 12 prisons.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Prisons
EditorsYvonne Jewkes
ISBN (Electronic)9780203118191
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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