Prison staff perceptions of their role in the rehabilitation and desistance support of prisoners

  • Jo Bailey-Noblett

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The principle objective of my ethnographical investigation was to interrogate prison staff perceptions in a Scottish prison to their role in affecting positive change, how this integrates into regular regimes of security and care and how they are trained to be positive agents of change. Research literature concludes that prison officers are the mainstay of the prison system, but rehabilitation and desistance support for prisoners is secondary to their primary role of security and care. In response to the Scottish Government's expectation that prisons reduce recidivism, the Scottish Prison Service introduced two strategies: (i) to positively transform the provision for prisoners internally and with community reintegration externally; (ii) to professionalise prison officer's service to transform how they facilitate positive change and desistance support for prisoners. I believe my empirical research has added to the knowledge of rehabilitation and desistance support in a penal environment through the lens of prison officers using a unique combination of video recordings of training and focus groups and audio recordings of one-to-one interviews which augment my observations, notes and interview responses, and provide an ontological perspective of a prison officer's occupation. My findings identify perspectival dichotomies and suggest that: training only provides new recruits with the bare essentials to undertake their primary function of security and care, positively conditions them to violence, but also conditions them to view prisoners negatively; poor intra- and inter-communication between different teams and groups of prison officers limits and impedes support of a prisoner's desistance journey; the architectural design of the prison has created a divide metaphorically and physically, so much so that rehabilitative support is seen as a formal process operating in specific areas of the prison away from the residential wings where a prisoner is likely to spend the majority of time incarcerated. What is claimed to be an holistic approach across the whole of the prison is unattainable due to the centralisation and concentration of 'support' in areas separated from the residential wings, and where prison staff have to make stark choices on who they can protect and support. Thus, strategies for the facilitation of rehabilitation, I contend, are not fundamentally meeting the needs of prisoners but the strategic goals of the Government, courts and prison service, where what is processed can be tangibly accountable through KPIs, contractual obligations and be fiscally affordable.
Date of Award16 Apr 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorLaura Piacentini (Supervisor) & Daniel Horn (Supervisor)

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