UK inmates comfortable with diversity

Jan 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: Digital native fallacy: Teachers still know better when it comes to using technology

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study says few prisoners contract HIV

Apr 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

Apr 01, 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

Gypsies and travellers on the English Green Belt

Oct 17, 2014

The battle between Gypsies, Travellers and the settled community over how land can be used has moved to the Green Belt, observes Peter Kabachnik of the City University of New York.

Cadavers beat computers for learning anatomy

Oct 16, 2014

Despite the growing popularity of using computer simulation to help teach college anatomy, students learn much better through the traditional use of human cadavers, according to new research that has implications ...

User comments : 0