Vulnerability, decision-making and the protection of prisoners in Scotland and England

Cornish, Neil Antony (2022) Vulnerability, decision-making and the protection of prisoners in Scotland and England. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Vulnerable and protection prisoners currently make up a sizeable proportion of the prison populations in England and Scotland, and designated physical space to house them, an approach that has developed significantly in both countries since the 1960s, remains under studied. Within research on prisons, vulnerability has been predominantly associated with risks to the self, for example, mental health problems, self-harm and suicide, internal vulnerabilities that prisoners either bring into an establishment or which are a consequence of the stressors of prison life. This literature further tends to focus on certain categories of prisoner, namely those who have committed sexual crimes. This framing of vulnerability in prison means academic research typically studies vulnerability as a settled status, and there has been a move away from exploring meanings, experiences and determinations of vulnerability as these arise and change at different points of a person’s journey through prison. This study addresses these gaps by sharing the perspectives directly from those at risk of victimization in prison as well as from those in charge of deciding who will get protection from risks. The focus is on prisoner and staff decisions to relocate to protective housing (vulnerable prisoner units (VPU) in England and protection halls in Scotland).

This research utilised qualitative methods, interviewing staff (13) involved in designating or managing vulnerability in prison as well as prisoners (23) who had been identified as needing protective housing. The research was conducted in one prison in England and two prisons in Scotland. It highlights the significant levels of victimization, trauma and fear experienced by prisoner research participants, and in doing so complicates prevailing ideas of vulnerability in prison. The findings chapters show: staff perspectives on what counts as a valid basis of vulnerability and therefore how it is managed and to some extent rationed (Chapter 5); the importance of journeys into and through prisons which shape and intensify experiences of vulnerability (Chapter 6); the perspectives of prisoners housed in a VPU in England which reinforced the idea that vulnerability is fluid and that there are some common factors affecting decisions to relocate from mainstream wings, but ultimately each decision is situated in the personal circumstances of an individual (Chapter 7); the perspectives of prisoners housed in protection halls in Scotland highlighting the factors that influence decisions to seek out or resist protective accommodation where, like England, common factors influenced decisions but were situated in highly individual circumstances (Chapter 8), and how these feelings were managed. The conclusion (Chapter 9) summarises key findings and calls for a sociology of the vulnerable prisoner (building on a conceptualisation of vulnerability in Chapter 3) to understand not only how they navigate risk from others and the prison itself, but how they make sense of their newly acquired yet further stigmatized identity. Finally, it sets out some implications and suggestions for policy based on its new contribution to a sociology of vulnerability.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Armstrong, Professor Sarah, Schinkel, Dr. Marguerite and Barry, Dr. Monica
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-82803
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2022 07:08
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2022 07:13
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82803

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