Chair: Esther van Ginneken

Prisoners’ experiences of wellbeing and harms

Building: G
Room: 22


Author: Simanovic Tia, University of Strathclyde

Title: Grieving Prisoners, Double Confinement: Who Cares About the Prisoners’ Experiences of Death Prior to And/or During Custody?
This paper will provide a critical review of research into imprisonment, death, and bereavement. The study itself aims to examine prisoners’ experiences of bereavement and coping mechanisms in place, when dealing with death prior to and/or during custody, as well as to explore institutional impacts, effects, and responses to grieving in prison. According to research, processing grief might be more difficult while detached from one’s natural support systems and bereavement rituals, which could be additionally hindered by institutional norms of acceptable behavior. Existing research indicates that prisoners, in particular young offenders and women, experience multiple losses and a complex concoction of bereavement and grief throughout their lives (Ferszt, 2002; Finlay and Jones, 2014; Vaswani, 2014). It also reveals the distressing reality of being bereaved behind bars (Masterton, 2014), and suggests a potential relationship between bereavement and reoffending (Vaswani, 2014). Addressing the needs of this population in a timely and asset-based manner, from a social work and criminal justice perspectives, might lead to better chances of reintegration and lower recidivism. This paper argues that there is a critical need for more research on this issue, especially from an interdisciplinary perspective, in order to develop a better understanding of bereavement experiences of prisoners, eventually supporting a more informed policy and a multi-disciplinary practice response.
Keywords: bereavement, grief, death, imprisonment, multi-disciplinarity
Author: Muirhead Aimée, Queen's University Belfast

Title: Cellmates, Fronts and Wellbeing: a Mixed Methods Study in Prisons in Northern Ireland
The act of ‘putting on a front’ can serve as a coping mechanism in prison, where individuals tend to abide by social norms based on appearing ‘tough’ and concealing vulnerabilities (Sykes 1958; de Viggiani 2012). Recent literature has challenged the dramaturgical dichotomy of prison spaces. These tend to be characterised in prison as either frontstage, where an individual ‘performs’ in line with social norms, or backstage, where individuals may behave in a manner inconsistent with their public performances without reprisal (Goffman, 1959; Crewe et al, 2014). The very nature of a shared cell poses an interesting question to the emotional zones of prison life, as the shared space may not be easily classed as either frontstage or backstage (Laws & Crewe, 2016). Relatively little is known about the details of cell-sharing experiences and how an individual’s well-being and ability to cope during their imprisonment may be impacted by their cellmate (Molleman & van Ginneken, 2014; Knight, 2016). This presentation outlines the findings of a mixed method study on cell-sharing, wellbeing and coping in prisons in Northern Ireland. Survey results from a random stratified sample of adult male prisoners (n = 569) are discussed. These survey results will be contextualised by qualitative findings from semi-structured interviews with prisoners (n = 37) and staff (n = 15), relating to the challenges that cellmates encounter, how these are navigated and the implications for prisoner wellbeing.
Keywords: cell-sharing, wellbeing, coping, prison social norms
Author: Marchetti Elena, Griffith University

Title: Harms Caused by Imprisonment Through the Voices of Australian Indigenous Male Inmates
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 27% of the total prisoner population and only 2% of the Australian adult population. From 2016 to 2017 there was a 7% increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being detained in prison, a figure that has been steadily increasing over the past decade. The harm caused to Indigenous Australian by their continual and increasing incarceration has been well documented, with a former Attorney-General calling it a ‘national tragedy’. This paper explores the ways Indigenous male inmates in a correctional facility located in southern New South Wales, Australia, describe the harms caused by life in prison. Five volumes of poetry and creative writing proses produced by male Indigenous inmates who attended a creative writing program, called ‘Dreaming Inside: Voices from the Junee Correctional Centre’ lead by Indigenous Elders over six years and interviews with some of the contributors, will be used to explore what it means to be an Indigenous person in prison and what it means to have the opportunity to voice their feelings and thoughts through poetry. In particular, their writings will be used to help us understand how justice is embodied for people who are (and have been) surrounded with hardships, discrimination, racism and grief over the loss of their culture, families and freedom.
Keywords: Indigenous Australians, creative writing prison program, Post-colonial harms
Author: van Ginneken Esther, Leiden University

Hanneke Palmen, Leiden University Anouk Bosma, Leiden University
Title: Bearing the Weight of Imprisonment: the Relationship Between the Quality of Prison Life and Prisoner Well-Being
While some of the pains of imprisonment are inevitable, the extent to which they are painful (and indeed harmful) may vary. It has been well established that there are differences between prison establishments in terms of the quality of life, which may be due to the activities and facilities, as well as the social fabric of the prison. In particular, staff-prisoner relationships, which have instrumental as well as interpersonal aspects, have been deemed important in mitigating the pains of imprisonment. In this paper it is examined to what extent characteristics of the prison, regime and relationships make the prison experience more or less bearable. The Dutch prison system provides a particularly interesting site to study this question, because the national prison climate is characterized by a low imprisonment rate, but also by austerity resulting from budget cuts. The association between the quality of prison life and prisoner well-being will be studied using data from the Life in Custody Study, which included a national survey among Dutch prisoners (N = 4.538) and prison staff (N = 1.508), supplemented with official data and information about institutional characteristics.
Keywords: prison climate, staff-prisoner relationships, pains of imprisonment, wellbeing
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