UK inmates comfortable with diversity

January 13, 2010

'Ethnicity, Identity and Social Relations in Prison', carried out by Dr. Coretta Philips of the London School of Economics, explored how prisoners' ethnic identities helped them cope with prison life, and whether such identities informed a social pecking order and the formation of gangs. More specifically, it explored the influence of prison practices on prisoner and group identities.

In January 2009 British broadsheets voiced fears of a flourishing gang culture in UK top-security prisons following an inspection report on Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire. By contrast, the LSE research - comprising ethnographic studies conducted in Kent over eight months each at a young offenders' institution and an adult male - found that, superficially at least, there was an acceptance of diversity amongst prisoners, with some welcoming it.

There were no gangs in either institution, and no religious or ethnic pecking order. However, prisoners tended towards same-ethnicity friendships, and formed groups providing physical protection, for sharing, and for access to items such as mobile phones and drugs. Muslim groups - encompassing a range of ethnicities - were both envied by non-Muslims for their potential for seeking concessions on religious grounds, and disparaged for their solidarity.

Although racist undercurrents led to conflict and division, prisoners lived in harmony much of the time. Dr Philips commented: "We found that the younger prisoners tended to be more attached to their neighbourhood than to their ethnicity, with local allegiances giving them a sense of self and of belonging beyond the prison walls. Any negative views of ethnic groups were typically held by those from semi-rural neighbourhoods, whereas those from London neighbourhoods valued the diversity they found on their own patch.

"By contrast, older prisoners tended to see themselves more in paternal and family terms, and it was notable that amongst these prisoners the ability to resolve disputes without violence was valued."

Prisoners from all ethnicities had issues with institutional approaches, although for different reasons. Many minority ethnic , mainly black, prisoners felt they were treated more harshly by staff than white prisoners. By contrast, many white prisoners resented what they saw as the preferential treatment of minority ethnic prisoners who claimed racist treatment. They were themselves, often uncomfortable in encounters with black prisoners and were fearful of being called racist.

Explore further: Study says few prisoners contract HIV

Related Stories

Study says few prisoners contract HIV

April 21, 2006

A study refutes the widely held perception that blames U.S. prisons for the spread of the AIDS epidemic, saying very few prisoners acquire the virus.

Rising prison population an undeclared national crisis

April 1, 2008

Nearly a month after a published study on increasing U.S. prison population revealed more than 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars, two University of Michigan professors are aiming to elevate the public debate on prison ...

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.