Chair: Ben Crewe

Punishment & Society II: Soft power in prisons: forms and consequences

Building: A
Room: 12


Author: Crewe Ben, University of Cambridge/Institute of Criminology

Title: Rethinking ‘Tightness’ in Prisons: Claws, Clothing and Othe r Metaphors
The concept of ‘tightness’ (Crewe 2009, 2011) aims to convey the texture of contemporary penal power, focussing in particular on the modes of ‘soft’ and psychological power that work alongside its more coercive dimensions. Based on a number of related research projects, this paper seeks to refine the idea of tightness by reassessing the workings and experience of these forms of power and regulation. It argues, first, that tightness can work laterally as well as vertically, that is, as a form of peer regulation (Ievins 2017); second, that prisons can be ‘loose’ as well as ‘tight’, when their grip is weak or inconsistent; and, third, that both tightness and looseness might be welcomed, depending on their particular form. Drawing on an ongoing comparative study of imprisonment in England & Wales and Norway, the paper goes on to illustrate the features and consequences of different forms of tightness and looseness.
Keywords: prisons; ‘tightness’; soft power; penal power; regulation
Author: Ievins Alice, University of Cambridge/Institute of Criminology

Title: Lateral Tightness and Sex Offenders
Late-modern penal power has been described as ‘tight’ (Crewe, 2011). Through the increasing use of indeterminate sentences and psychological assessment, and the growing insistence that prisoners engage in self-government, the prison ‘grips, harnesses and appropriates the self’, turning it into ‘a vehicle of power rather than a place of last refuge’ (p.524). Current conceptualisations of ‘tightness’ describe it as both vertical – something imposed on prisoners from above – and unwanted – a painful attempt on the part of the prison to reconstruct the self of the prisoner. Based on ethnographic studies of English prisons holding men convicted of sex offences, this presentation will complicate these understandings of tightness. It will argue that the absence of tightness can be as damaging as its presence, and that prisoners convicted of sex offences observe and monitor their peers in ways which reproduce and reflect the forms of power which the prison uses on them. By showing how regulation and risk-thinking disperse throughout the prison, this article will argue that tightness operates laterally as well as vertically, and will consider what this means for our analysis of the prison’s attempts to govern those it holds.
Keywords: prison; tightness; power; lateral regulation
Author: Laursen Julie, University of Cambridge

Anna Schliehe, University of Cambridge
Title: Power, Regulation and Gender in Women’S Prisons in England & Wales and Norway
Following Howe (1994), this paper explores the relationship between gender, power and punishment through an ethnographic comparison of the experiences of female prisoners in England & Wales and Norway. Focussing on their experiences and interpretations of regimes, relationships and order, we analyse women’s narratives through the conceptual lens of ‘weight’ and ‘tightness’ (Crewe 2015). Specifically, our approach involves a horizontal (prisoner-prisoner relationships) as well as vertical (staff-prisoner) analysis of the relational and gendered texture of imprisonment, exploring the ways in which the relational nature of prison life interacts with the feeling of being closely regulated, and thereby contributes to the experience of a particular form of penal oppressiveness. Looking at female prisoners serving different kinds of sentences and at different stages of their imprisonment, the paper advances our understanding of the gendered aspects of confinement.
Keywords: prison, weight, tightness, women, gender, comparative penology
Author: Mjaland Kristian, University of Cambrdige/Institute for Criminology

Title: Risk Logics and Their Consequences in England & Wales and Norway
The research on how risk assessments and risk discourses have influenced penal policy has been extensive. Yet, there has been little comparative research into how the late-modern preoccupation with risk impacts on prison everyday life and social relationships in prison. In this paper we compare two jurisdictions, England & Wales and Norway, where risk plays a rather different role in penal policy and practice. Based on long-term ethnographic research in prisons in both countries we find that discourses of risk infuse everyday prison life in England & Wales, whereas the concept of risk is rarely mobilised in Norwegian penal practice. The lack of a discourse of risk in Norwegian prisons does not imply that risk is insignificant, we argue, but rather that risk is bound up in dynamic discretionary decision-making processes. The paper explores this difference in how risk operates in the two jurisdictions, before it turns to a discussion on how these different ‘risk logics’ impact on the social quality of prison life.
Keywords: risk; imprisonment; comparative penology; prison social life
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