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Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

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Journal of Criminal Justice

Social relationships between prisoners in a maximum security prison: Violence, faith,

and the declining nature of trust
Alison Liebling ⁎, Helen Arnold
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA, United Kingdom

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Available online 18 July 2012 Purpose: This paper describes significant changes to social relationships in a high security prison, including
the prominent role played by faith identities and fears of radicalisation in shaping prisoner social life.
Methods: The study consists of a repeated sociological investigation of the nature of staff-prisoner relation-
ships at a single site in the UK. Methods included extensive observation, the creation of a regular dialogue
group with 14 prisoners, long, private interviews with 32 staff and 52 prisoners, focus groups, and surveys
with 170 prisoners and 180 staff.
Results: The study found a decline in already low levels of trust, with dramatic effects on the prison's inner
life. Relationships between prisoners were fractured, more deeply hidden than in the original study, and
the traditional prison hierarchy, formerly easily visible in long-term prisons, had dissolved. Longer sentences,
fears of radicalisation, confusion about prison officer power, and high rates of conversion to Islam, reshaped
the dynamics of prison life, raising levels of fear. Clear indications of the anxieties and social unravellings of
late modern society were found.
Conclusions: Increased punitiveness, indeterminate sentences, the intensification of risk-oriented practices,
and anxieties relating to terrorism, have deepened the tone and reshaped the practices of long-term
© 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introduction effects on the inner life of the long-term prison. Increased punitive-
ness, longer and more indeterminate sentences, the politicisation of
crime and its control, the emergence of risk-oriented practices, and
My sense of the present … is that it is a moment shaped by 30 years of
fears and anxieties relating to terrorism, migration and the economy,
New Right politics that have removed the restraints on finance capital-
have impacted on the tone and ethos of long-term imprisonment
ism … increased the power of the wealthiest elites; and subordinated
in particular, as well as on the numbers and demographic composi-
national economic governance and welfare state protections to the de-
tion of prisoners subject to it. Some countervailing developments
mands of global markets. As a result, structural sociology, class analysis
(a human rights agenda, concerns about institutional racism, and
and the rigorous connection of societal processes to community, house-
some improved physical facilities) have interacted with harder-
hold and individual outcomes have never been more important … in
edged changes to policy and practice in some unintended ways.
the sphere of crime and punishment (Garland, 2012: 8).
Few studies of single prisons have documented resulting changes
to the prison experience, or to the nature of social relationships
This is not an honest prison (Prisoner).
among prisoners (although see Jacobs, 1977; Irwin, 1980; and more
recently, Crewe, 2009). In an unusual, repeat, sociological study of
Criminological and other scholars have described fundamental
a maximum security prison in England, first conducted twelve
changes to penal policy and practice, as well as to the social, economic
years earlier, clear indications of the impact of ‘the new penology’
and political contexts in which penal practices take shape (e.g. Misztal,
(Feeley & Simon, 1992), the shift to a risk-laden late modern society
1996; Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1991; Bauman, 1989, 1997; Boutellier,
(O'Malley, 1992), new fears of radicalisation (Hamm, 2011), confusion
2004; Rose, 2000; Garland, 2001; Simon, 2007; Young, 1999, 2007).
about the limits to and shape of prison officer power, and a decline in
The anxieties and social unravellings of late modernity have led to a
already low but ‘workable’ levels of trust throughout the establish-
‘convulsive penal politics’ (Hope & Sparks, 2000: 3) but also a decline
ment, were evident. Describing this new state of affairs – including
in already low levels of trust, with dramatic but largely undocumented
fundamental changes to the traditional prisoner hierarchy – was ex-
tremely challenging. Relationships between prisoners were complex.
⁎ Corresponding author. They were described as fractured, were more deeply hidden than
E-mail addresses: al115@cam.ac.uk, dk363@cam.ac.uk (A. Liebling). in the original study, and the ‘traditional prison hierarchy’, formerly

0047-2352/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
414 A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

easily visible in high security and long-term prisons in England and culture as utilitarian, oppositional, and exploitative (Bondeson,
Wales, had all but dissolved. The traditional ‘liberal-relational’ model 1989; Grapendaal, 1990). The empirical status or degree of support
of high security prisons in England and Wales, implemented (albeit for the specific theoretical claims made by prison sociologists has
falteringly) following the Radzinowicz report into conditions for pris- varied over time and between studies (see for example, Useem &
oners in conditions of maximum security 1 (Advisory Council on the Piehl, 2006) and in general insufficient research of an appropriately
Penal System, 1968) is under threat. detailed nature exists (see Simon, 2000). All are agreed that away
This paper is organised as follows: after a brief introduction to the from the observations of staff, the wings and corridors of the prison
literature, the empirical study on which the paper is based is intro- world take on a complex character, comprised of action and interac-
duced. Some of the changes between the context and findings of tion, movement and manoeuvre. This hidden world of the prison,
‘study 1’, conducted 12 years earlier, and the current study, are de- known only by prisoners, and somewhat by staff, is ‘where the action
scribed. The remainder of the paper describes the new prisoner popu- is’ (Goffman, 1961) in prison. Later scholars were clear that this social
lation and their relationships with each other. The importation of a world did not operate apart from the wider community but instead
more overt and violent ‘street life’ and culture, as well as a sharper interacted with it – absorbing the changing political and social con-
sense of the injustices of social exclusion and penal politics, meant text (e.g. Irwin, 1980; Jacobs, 1977).
that prisoners entered prison with an acute sense of both shock Scholarship in this tradition conceptualises the prisoner ‘com-
and grievance. Political aversion to ‘pampering long-term prisoners’ munity’ as shaped in part by importation factors (habits, character-
meant that some of the activities and sense-making opportunities istics and values brought in to prison from outside; see, e.g. Irwin &
for prisoners facing long sentences observed in the first study were Cressey, 1962) and in part by ‘deprivation’ factors (the conditions,
no longer available. Violence, and fear of violence, in prison, particu- constraints and deprivations of imprisonment; see, e.g. Sykes, 1958).
larly in relation to the growing presence of Muslim prisoners, emerged Both or combined models have been found to be empirically sup-
as major themes in private conversation. Shifting faith identities ported to some extent, whilst prisons may also vary in the respective
(including a high rate of in-prison conversion to Islam) had become contributions played by imported characteristics, and the pains and
intertwined with the flow of power in prison in ways that were highly deprivations of imprisonment, and by design (see for example,
complex and difficult to describe. There were risks that faith had be- Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2006). There has been considerable specula-
come the new ‘no go area’ in prison. A mixture of coercion and the at- tion in the prison world about the erosion of ‘prisoner solidarity’, as
tractions of faith made turning to Islam appear as one solution to the prisoners have become more interested in drugs, or in their own
problems of fear, lack of trust, and the existential crisis that prisoners material circumstances (see, e.g. Crewe, 2005). The introduction of
faced. ‘earned privileges’, and the development of more stringent, risk-
laden parole decision-making, have been credited with contributing
to this overall decline in collective activity and solidarity amongst
Prison sociology and the traditional prison hierarchy prisoners. As Simon argues (2000) there have been few major so-
ciological studies of the prison world and its interior social life since
Prison is a place where people live (Clemmer, 1940). the pioneering studies by Clemmer (1940), Sykes (1958), Irwin and
Cressey (1962), Jacobs (1974, 1977) and others in the US, and
The society of prisoners … is not only physically compressed; it is Mathiesen (1965) in Norway. Sociological studies of prisons in the
psychologically compressed as well, since prisoners live in an UK have been carried out by, for example, the Morris and Morris
enforced intimacy where each man's behaviour is subject both to (1963), by Cohen and Taylor (1972), McDermott and King (1988),
the constant scrutiny of his fellow captives and the surveillance King and McDermott (1990), Sparks, Bottoms, and Hay (1996),
of the custodians. It is not solitude that plagues the prisoner but Jewkes (2002), Liebling (2004) and Crewe (2009). None of these
life en masse (Sykes, 1958: 4). studies have explored, sociologically, the role of faith and faith iden-
tities in shaping prisoner social life (that is the relationship of faith
Prison sociologists have long been interested in social relation- to power in prison), although Cohen and Taylor wrote persuasively
ships among prisoners, in the kinds of adaptations prisoners make about techniques of psychological survival as prisoners struggled
to the prison environment, the codes or informal rules that arise, with fears of deterioration, threats to their identity, and crises of
the nature of allegiances between them, and the formation of groups. meaning and ‘self-narrative’ (Cohen & Taylor, 1972; Liebling, 2011a,
The earliest studies of the sociology of the prison applied the ecolog- 2011b; Maruna, Wilson, & Curran, 2006). Many prison phenomenon
ical insights of the Chicago School of Sociology to the ‘prison com- (e.g. suicide, violence, disorder, or religious conversion) can be made
munity’, finding inmate leaders, various groupings or social roles sense of using a combination of importation and deprivation variables.
played by prisoners, and a ‘cool rejection’ by prisoners of prison This paper attempts to draw out descriptively some complex aspects
staff (Berk, 1966; Clemmer, 1940; Grusky, 1959a, 1959b; McCorkle of the contemporary prisoner community shaped by a changing con-
& Korn, 1954; Sykes, 1958; Sykes & Messinger, 1960). Three key text outside.
themes to emerge from the early prison sociology literature were: Some prison scholars have suggested that there is a causal link
the notion of the prison as a sustained social community, with a between the nature and quality of prisoners’ relationships with
flow of power operating through it in complex ways; the division of staff, and the kinds of social relations to form among prisoners. Staff
prisoners into social roles; and the concept of solidarity 2 – or the ‘police’ the prison environment to different degrees, and in different
question of whether such solidarity existed and, if so, what function ways, thereby allowing different types and depths of prisoner social
it served. The assumption made by Sykes is that prisoners display life to emerge. 3 A significant contribution to this analysis was made
(if not wholly subscribe to) a certain level of ‘solidarity’ (unity of pur- in 1996 by Sparks, Bottoms and Hay, who showed that the regimes
pose and mutual moral and other support) in opposition to prison of- and ‘policing styles’ in operation at two contrasting maximum securi-
ficers in order to offset the pains and deprivations of imprisonment. ty or ‘dispersal’ prisons (Albany and Long Lartin), gave rise to radical-
There are limits to how far prisoners are willing to accept the author- ly different rates and types of violence between prisoners (Sparks
ity of their custodians, and reasons for them to resist staff in both et al., 1996). At the somewhat tightly controlled Albany, assaults
overt and covert ways. were often explained by ‘spontaneous frustration’ between pairs of
Mathiesen argued, against Sykes, that prisoners are atomised prisoners, whereas at Long Lartin, a more liberal prison, acts of vio-
and relatively weak, and dependent upon staff (Mathiesen, 1965). lence were often pre-planned and deeply embedded in extensive so-
Other sociological studies of prison life have described prisoner cial and economic networks. Long Lartin was less closely policed, but
A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424 415

was generally regarded as the more legitimate prison, except by the prisoner representatives in dialogue with staff and managers about
vulnerable few, who felt unsafe (see also Sparks & Bottoms, 1995). conditions and privileges in the prison, but a broad acceptance of a
There are trade-offs, then, between safety (as risk management, or ac- flow of power from staff, through prisoners, to the wings (see further,
tivity), control and policing, on the one hand, and freedom, personal Liebling & Price, 1998, 2001). Significantly, at the time of the first
autonomy and choice on the other. Both contribute to perceptions study, the prison staff had been undergoing an ably led and well
of safety, fairness and legitimacy in prison (on which see, for example, resourced ‘claw-back’ following a more turbulent period in the
Sparks and Bottoms, 2008; and Liebling et al., 2005). The (often im- years beforehand (including disturbances, and six escapes, related
plicit) conception of order to which prisons work shape the type of to staff under-policing of prisoners’ day-to-day behaviour). The first
community, or mode of social organisation, to emerge. study had arguably captured a ‘peak’ moment in its history, in
Classic sociological studies describe a power hierarchy among pris- which staff were more than typically professionally confident, highly
oners, and a tendency for prison staff to work co-operatively with engaged, and reasonably disposed towards prisoners (on the whole).
those at the higher end of this hierarchy, trading freedoms and trust The research team mingled freely on the wings, attended regular and
for co-operation and a certain amount of self-policing among the pris- externally-facilitated group discussions, shadowed staff and inter-
oner community. In British long-term prisons, white, professional, viewed prisoners with relative ease. The current study, conducted
older prisoners sometimes held this role, acting informally as go- 12 years later, was completely different.
betweens, spokesmen, negotiators and mentors for younger, less ar-
ticulate prisoners, whilst contributing to order on the wing (and ‘get- An overview of a new social organisation at Marchwood
ting away with’ some concessions; see. e.g. Liebling, 1999; Liebling, &
assisted by Arnold, H., 2004: 359). Variations on these established Marchwood prison, in which both studies took place, is located in
hierarchies existed (and it reached extreme levels and carried dangers a remote Fenland town, a long way from the London (or other major
in some prisons; see McEvoy, 2001; Crewe, Liebling, & Hulley, city) homes of most of its prisoners. 4 The prison was opened in 1991,
submitted for publication), but older white prisoners in this study de- and had a modern design with wings of 180 prisoners divided into
scribed and expressed nostalgia for it. three separate ‘spurs’ (Red, Green and Blue) of 60 prisoners each. It
Theoretical, critical analysis of the prison, as well as moral apprais- consisted of 440 adult male prisoners requiring conditions of maxi-
al of it, requires close, sustained sociological-empirical groundwork, mum security and serving over four years (most were serving ten
conceptual as well as descriptive clarity, and some understanding of years to life). It had six wings, A to F. One of these was a special
the prison's changing ‘mission and ideology’ (Simon, 2000: 302). unit for the dangerous and severely personality disordered. The re-
This is time-consuming work, requiring clear access and almost unrea- search took place mainly on the ‘mainstream’ wings. Two of the sig-
sonable levels of staff, management and prisoner cooperation. This nificant changes to take place between ‘Study 1’ and ‘Study 2’ were,
paper attempts to make current conditions and experiences in one first, the removal of two wings housing vulnerable prisoners (mainly
maximum security prison, already sociologically known to the au- sex offenders) and their replacement with ‘ordinary dispersal pris-
thors, more visible. As Simon argues, this is critical where the ‘public's oners’ 5 (who tend to be younger and less compliant) and secondly,
infatuation with incarceration depends on deep ignorance as it its fun- an increase in the population of Muslim prisoners from a handful in
damental effects’ (ibid.: 303). 1998 to 155 or 35 per cent at the time of the Study 2. There had
been a murder of an Asian prisoner by his racist cell-mate in a
The maximum security prison in late modernity: Young Offenders Institution in 2001, leading to significant efforts to
A sociological study combat ‘institutional racism’ in the Prison Service in general (House
of Commons, 2006). The Inquiry to follow precipitated considerable
The study reported here was a repeat of a semi-ethnographic anxiety about discriminatory behaviour among prison officers. A dis-
study of a single maximum security prison conducted by the authors ciplinary action against a well-liked (by both staff and prisoners)
and colleagues at the request of the Home Office following a negative member of staff at Marchwood for inappropriate language brought
Inspectorate Report about the state of staff-prisoner relationships home the message that staff had to tread carefully on matters of
in the prison (HMCIP, 2008) and some concerns about radicalisation race, religion and diversity. This was an appropriate message, but it
(Hamm, 2009; Liebling, Arnold, & Straub, 2012). It was generously had some unintended consequences including loss of confidence
funded by the Home Office, a ‘neutral, curiosity-driven’ approach among staff in their key ‘policing’ skill: the tactics of talk.
and title were agreed, and access under the usual terms and condi- Some important differences were found in the second study, some
tions (requiring independence for the research team and anonymity, of which were related to broader correctional and political changes.
confidentiality and consent for participants) was facilitated (with one These differences in climate, population composition, regime provi-
exception, see Footnote 17). The identity of the prison was difficult to sion, prisoners’ psychological condition and relationships, and the
disguise, as the author had conducted a similar study at the same flow of power in the prison, are outlined briefly below, as they
prison twelve years earlier, which had led to a well received publica- appeared (rather powerfully) to us, before moving to a fuller descrip-
tion on the work of prison officers (Liebling & Price, 2001; revised tion of ‘the present’ in the rest of the paper.
edition, Liebling, Price, & Shefer, 2011). But for the purposes of this The prison was more tense, there were more barriers for the re-
paper, we shall call it ‘Marchwood’. searchers to overcome (with staff and prisoners), and levels of fear
Throughout this article, the original research is referred to as and mistrust in the prison were considerably higher. There was a
‘Study 1’ (1998–9) and the repeat research as ‘Study 2’ (2009–10). new population of relatively young prisoners (in their early twenties)
The methods used included observation, the establishment of a regu- serving indeterminate sentences, facing 15–25 year tariffs. These
lar ‘Dialogue’ group with 12–16 prisoners (held weekly), long, pri- prisoners brought some bitterness, a more oppositional ‘street cul-
vate, tape-recorded interviews with staff (36) and prisoners (52), ture’ and considerable frustration with them into prison. 6 Changing
informal conversation, and the use of a detailed survey with staff social conditions and sentencing practices (new offences, new uses
(194) and prisoners (159). The research team (of three) spent four- of existing sentences – such as ‘joint enterprise’ 7 - new mandatory
teen months in the prison, only conducting interviews once relation- sentences, longer tariffs, and changes to court practices, as well as
ships were established and staff and prisoners had grown accustomed to their lives outside) meant that prisoners regarded their sentences
to the researchers’ presence on the wings. The first study had found as ‘less legitimate’. This had not been the case in the first study. Pris-
relatively professional-legitimate staff-prisoner relationships, and a oners were struggling to come to terms with and find a way of doing
typical, but policed, long-term prisoner culture in the prison, with this kind of sentence. The process of adjustment took several years.
416 A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

Outside organisations were less welcome or visible in the prison and more enforced. Loyalties were linked by fear as well as by shared
than in the first study, due to security concerns. Many of the kinds interests.
of ‘enrichment’ activities the research team observed, or participated The new arrangements were difficult to disentangle from age.
in, during Study 1 were now regarded as unable to meet a new ‘public There were no ‘young generation bank robbers’ coming in to the pris-
acceptability’ test. We encountered younger prisoners looking for on (if there had been, there might have been more competition for
hope and meaning at a difficult, early stage in their sentences. They power). That is, there was no-one of the traditional value set vying
experienced newly introduced restrictions placed by the prison on for power. There were ‘no older Muslims’ either. Crudely stated, the
finding available ways through their ‘existential crisis’. Prisoners types of prisoner groups identifiable included the following: 1. TACT
were frustrated and felt ‘stuck’ and invisible in the prison. They felt prisoners 9 (barely visible, but acting as ideological leaders). 2. Anti-
there was a lack of clarity about the purpose of long-term imprison- social criminal ‘gangs’ (primarily, but not exclusively, containing
ment. The need to belong, and to find meaning and relationships gen- Muslim and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) prisoners, who had
erated a search for collective identity. ‘muscle’ and some fear-respect among other prisoners). 3. Those
A new population mix, including younger, more Black and minori- who ‘tagged along’ with the above group, for acceptance, safety and
ty ethnic (BME) and mixed race, and high numbers of Muslim pris- status (this group was mixed). 4. ‘Old lag’ prisoners (white, often
oners, (a significant proportion of whom had converted in prison, London-based professional criminals, ‘respected’ for their crimes. 5.
not always ‘willingly’, see further below) was disrupting established White ‘gang’ leaders and members (a younger group). 6. ‘Ordinary’
hierarchies. There was considerable evidence of negative social con- (non-gang-affiliated) Muslims. 7. Non-Muslim, Christian, Buddhist
structions and treatment of Muslim prisoners by staff, as well as and Jewish and other prisoners. 8. The individualised, mentally ill or
some overlapping complaints about discrimination based on eth- learning disabled.
nicity. 8 Some non-Muslim prisoners, regarded faith-following Muslim It was difficult to do a sentence without affiliation to some group.
prisoners as representing a threat to a ‘British-White-Christian- The relationship between groups 1 and 2 (above) was difficult to
Secular’ way of life. There were tensions relating to fears of ‘extrem- fathom but did not seem ‘hierarchical’. In the remainder of this article
ism’ and ‘radicalisation’ in the prison, confounded by the apparently we describe ‘the present’ more fully, attempting to accurately depict
high rate of conversion to Islam. Links between recent attacks on the what we observed, and what prisoners said, about their relationships
London Underground and elsewhere, and radicalisation of some of with each other, violence, coercion and trust. The opinions of staff,
the individuals involved in prison, were made by the media, and by se- and further elaboration on prisoners’ experiences of the new prison
curity services (see Hamm, 2009, 2011). Staff were unsure of their au- world will be published elsewhere.
thority in relation to faith practices, and were nervous of being
accused of discrimination. Some distancing had taken place, so that Relationships and alliances between prisoners in a contemporary
staff seemed less sure-footed around prisoners than they had been. maximum security prison
They were uncomfortable with their ‘unfamiliar’ population.
Social relations among prisoners had become complex and less In general, prisoners described their relationships with each other
visible. Too much power flowed in the prison among some groups as cautious and limited. On the one hand, they were tense, strained,
of prisoners, with some real risks of serious violence. There were and temperamental. On the other, they were ‘convenient’ and instru-
high levels of fear among prisoners in the prison, which flowed on mental (as other scholars have noted). Interactions between pris-
to the wings like a mood. Some of the (serious) violent incidents tak- oners had little substance: they might ‘look OK on the surface’, but
ing place in the prison at the time of the research were apparently re- they were extremely guarded. Prisoners were reluctant to give them
lated to faith or ideological disputes, but were difficult to disentangle the label ‘relationships’; there was too much fear involved. Several
from other forms of prison violence. non-Muslim prisoners were determined to get a transfer to Frankland
Those prisoners who remembered or subscribed to the ‘old hierar- (another dispersal prison ‘up North’), where ‘they had heard’ that life
chy’ agreed that in this prison (and in prisons more generally), ‘it had was better. 10 There seemed to be more solidarity among Black and
broken down’. This was largely to do with population composition minority ethnic (BME) and many Muslim prisoners than among
changes – prisoners were younger, more regularly from minority eth- white and non-Muslim prisoners, although ‘counter-campaigns’ (to
nic and mixed race backgrounds, and ‘street life’ (and language) was increase attendance at Catholic Mass, for example) were described.
more prominent in shaping prisoner values, behaviour and attitudes. Some of this collective behaviour served individual needs and pur-
Sentences were longer, and the offences for which prisoners received poses, and the appropriation of power was used by some prisoners
them more often involved violence, guns and knives. Young prisoners against others as well as to push back staff.
were more oppositional. They did not solicit ‘friendly’ or civil rela- Alliances were cultivated for reasons of safety, and taking into ac-
tionships with prison staff. count the ‘risk to your progression’ or the ‘security consequences to
Older professional white prisoners ‘feel like an endangered spe- you’. Certain relationships could hinder progression, and individual
cies’, and looked out at the ‘young gang BME’ prisoners, ‘young prisoners described their own conflicts about this. Mates were ‘people
white drug users’, and assorted ‘Muslim prisoners’ with some disap- who aren't going to get you in to trouble’. Self-protecting prisoners
proval. There were still ‘out groups’: the learning disabled and mental- would not ‘be friends with volatile prisoners’. The emphasis on indi-
ly ill (who were predominantly white, but who had been tolerated or vidual progression and risk assessment was one reason why prisoners
accommodated in the old order), and sex offenders, who had been did not openly challenge other prisoners they disagreed with.
largely shunned, but these prisoners were now ‘targeted by’ or ‘useful Relationships outside prison mattered more (that is, featured
to’ some of the new ‘players’. more prominently in conversation) than they had in Study 1; as the
Muslim prisoners had accumulated the power in numbers (around prison population nation-wide had doubled since 1992, it was more
130 prisoners attended Friday prayers, for example), but the power likely that other family members were inside, just out, or returning
some of the heavier ‘players’ wielded was hidden, and difficult to to prison. Prisoners knew each others’ brothers and cousins, and
describe or evidence. Some of the prisoners in this group were power- their relationships with each other. The street (or the ghetto;
ful and ‘untouchable’. The rules were different: their code was more Wacquant, 2008) was less far away. There were far-reaching net-
‘us and them’ — they wanted no relationship with authority: ‘don't works, complex outside allegiances, conflicts and entanglements de-
talk to staff’, and ‘belong to the brotherhood’ — If you are in trouble termining who prisoners could and could not associate with in
‘we all have to help you out’. Not all prisoners who belonged to this prison and the terms on which relationships or interactions could
‘group’ agreed with its code. The new formation was less consensual take place. The prison was less ‘sealed’. This made relationships inside
A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424 417

harder and made incidents of violence more difficult to untangle (see Violence, fear of violence and safety in prison
further below). Knowing the street was both a risk and a strategic ad-
vantage in prison.
Violence is currency in prison (Prisoner).

Violence is not a good thing and I don't really condone it yeah? But I
Faith, violence and ‘the street’ know if you're rattling the cage, with the door open yeah? Then it
might bite, you know what I mean? (Prisoner).
These guys in the middle, what are really university geezers, internet
I grew up around violence; I mean my life's really been around vio-
geeks and that, they don't know about the street (Prisoner).
lence (Prisoner).

A striking finding was the central and complex role of faith, or The research team were aware that the threat and fear of violence
faith identity, in prisoner conflict. Levels of fear and violence were in ‘Study 2’ seemed more present in day to day life and conversation
high. Prisoners and staff suggested that there was a framing of conflict than it had been in ‘Study 1’. This was in part an outcome of the dis-
between prisoners, ‘using the new issues’ of faith identity and prac- tant and complex relationships and population changes outlined so
tices. This framing reinforced the power of the perpetrators, provid- far. Staff and prisoners were aware of the risk of serious violence
ing protection. and their vigilance and social distance made the environment feel
One of the significant new population groups to enter high secu- unsafe. A number of serious assaults, which the research team were
rity prisons (‘since 9/11’) were individuals convicted of acts of made aware of, had occurred either just prior to, or during, the field-
terrorist-related violence or planning. There were seven (known as work period; these are outlined below. The negative effects of a ‘fear-
TACT prisoners) in Marchwood at the time of the research. They distance-conflict-violence-fear’ cycle were evident.
often had powerful ideologies, but, according to many prisoners, no The general perception that violent incidents in the prison had in-
street craft. They were disproportionately, but not exclusively, Al creased in frequency and severity over the past two years was a source
Quaeda-inspired Muslim prisoners. Their role in the new prisoner of concern throughout the interviews and informal conversations
dynamics was unclear. But other prisoners adopted faith-inspired with staff and prisoners. There were four main narratives: i) frustra-
narratives for their violence, as we describe below. More streetwise tion with long-term imprisonment, over-complex routes out, and
prisoners dealt with interpersonal conflict indirectly and at a distance poor relationships with staff (that is, general frustration and griev-
(including over long periods of time) via what was frequently ance), ii) the new prisoner world (a remaking of the prisoner hierar-
referred to as ‘the Muslim issue’. Imposing religious expectations – chy and responses to this), iii) the presence of prisoners with serious
‘you're not praying …’ - became a way of addressing conflict, under mental illness in the prison, and iv) coercion relating to conversion
an umbrella. An example of a prisoner who had his eyes slashed in to Islam. Levels of assaults decreased significantly towards the end of
an assault, allegedly ‘because he was not conforming to the faith’ the fieldwork.
(he had been watching television, at night), illustrated this trend – Between March 2009 (three months before the fieldwork began)
the apparent enforcement of religious practices becoming the route and October 2010 (two months after the fieldwork was completed)
via which ‘come-uppance’ occurred, sometimes months later. This there were 66 assault-related incidents reported at the prison. Of
was an effective shield for prisoners who wanted to exert power, these, 15 (23 per cent) were deemed serious, due to the nature of
and use violence in the prison, precisely because it was so difficult the injuries received. Data were obtained on 61 of these incidents:
to police. in 30 per cent of cases the police were informed; in 28 per cent of
Normal prison issues were becoming ‘channelled into faith-related cases there was a police investigation; and in 41 per cent of cases
deviations’. There were powerful incentives to draw on faith as a re- major injury resulted. Forty-one (67 per cent) were assaults on pris-
source for structuring violence. Such disputes held power, were safe, oners and 20 (33 per cent) were assaults on staff. In terms of location,
and did not ‘hinder progression’. ‘Telling my brother you are not although this information was missing in several cases, the highest
praying’ was a good mask for retaliation for ‘the fight we had the proportion of assaults (20 per cent) took place on D Wing (the
other day’. Much conflict arose, was expressed, or simply felt among DSPD Unit); 13 per cent each took place on A Wing and C Wing, 12
Muslim prisoners, because faith following was becoming the orga- per cent took place on B Wing, and ten per cent took place in the
nising principle around which violence was ‘justified’ within the pris- Gym. In 18 (30 per cent) of the incidents a weapon was used; most
oner community. It was impossible to trace the origins of acts of commonly a knife or sharp blade. Incidents not involving weapons
violence (the research team interviewed more victims than perpetra- were likely to involve a prisoner being punched or hit (35 per
tors), but there was some evidence that violence in the prison dispro- cent); 26 per cent were fights between prisoners. Whilst the assaults
portionately involved Muslims against ‘reluctant-’ or non-Muslims. on staff were serious and significant in shaping the prison's climate,
Of 61 assaults the research team were able to collect information we have focused on prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the analysis to
on, some were spontaneous, interpersonal ‘thin’ assaults. But others follow. 12
(including the most serious) were part of a developing interpersonal When violence occurred, it tended to be serious. Planned assaults
situation, in which faith became a reason for action, somewhere into were more common than spontaneous ‘fights’:
the narrative. 11 Retaliation did not take place ‘there and then’, but
perpetrators waited for an opportunity to ‘frame the conflict’ in the If two guys had a problem, they'd go in the gym, they'd have a little
new context of faith. These assaults seemed calculated and meditated fight, shake hands after they were finished, which is called ‘a straight-
(‘guns at noon’). People ‘know its coming’. What made disentangling ener’, do you know what I mean? That was the olden days, but that's
the situation at Marchwood difficult was that some conflicts may disappeared now (Prisoner).
have been about ‘faith’ and ideology, others were framed in that
way by the prisoners involved or witness to them, and still others One explanation for ‘higher than necessary’ levels of violence was
were attributed to faith conflict by staff or those reporting on the in- the lack of places or opportunities to release frustration:
cident. Some of the violence reported in the prison was related to the
new sentence conditions and a combined frustration with relation- You can see how much violent incidents have happened. People have
ships and the regime. More is said about these assaults and about got burnt up with ghee and things have happened to people in the
fear and violence in the prison more generally below. gym. The violence is going up. This is prison, Miss, yeah, things are
418 A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

going to happen. You can't stop all forms of violence. Prison is for vi- definitely get involved because that's the way life is in prison. If one of
olent people, isn't it? So when a prisoner gets angry, who's he going to your friends is done you've got to help them (Prisoner).
take that out on? On a fellow prisoner. That's what people tend to do.
… if someone pisses me off right now, if I've got a family problem and There was some scepticism amongst several prisoners, shared
these lot are getting on my nerves, yeah, I just wait for a prisoner to with the research team in informal conversations as well as in inter-
just get out of line … It's like, you know, you're not angry with him, views, as to how seriously staff took prisoners’ admissions of threat
you just want somebody to direct the anger against (Prisoner). from other prisoners whom they knew were located on the same
wing and had ‘enemies’ whom they had reason to believe had a ven-
In describing violent incidents they had witnessed, prisoners de- detta against them:
scribed how they adapted and responded:
They was trying it with me … and I said no, I've had enough of this, I
There was an attempted murder on Red Spur when I was on it. I didn't went and told an officer, I said these are putting pressure on me …
see it, but I saw the aftermath, I heard the screams, and I saw him the SO [Senior Officer] went and got the two people and told them
coming out of his cell. The way it challenged me was, I wasn't happy what I'd said. How about that? I had eight of them come in my cell
with the way I reacted … I think this environment makes you numb, which was a bit intimidating … ‘oh what you been telling the SO’
because you see a lot of violence in here, so I've become numb to vi- … and the only thing I could think of off my head was … ‘oh, well
olence in a lot of respects, and I can honestly say when I first saw him you believe a screw do you?’ … When I told the SO what was happen-
coming out of his cell, and there was blood spurting out, my first ing, he was trying to make it something different, he was saying to
thought was there's going to be a lock down, I'll have to go and get me, are you in debt? Do you take drugs? He was trying to twist it
the papers so I've got something to read, and I've gone over that reac- round like to make that problem not an issue (Prisoner).
tion a lot of times. I've thought on the outside I would be somebody
who would have been straight down there helping him and trying At the beginning of the fieldwork a prisoner was seriously
to resolve the situation. In here I'm a participating observer, I can't assaulted in the gym with a dumbbell. The victim of the attack was
get involved, and life almost unravels as if you're not there, as if it's a white Muslim prisoner who had converted whilst in prison; he
part of somebody else's life, but I think that's another coping strategy was suspected by some prisoners of supplying information to staff.
(Prisoner). He was vulnerable in many respects, including having some mental
health problems. Whilst the gym was highly valued by prisoners, it
I seen a lot of violence in this prison. I see someone get burnt. I was a was noted that the potential for violence there was higher than in
bit shocked ‘cause I was new to this. I haven't seen violence like that other locations since there were no security cameras installed (they
outside, like, I haven't seen a person scream like that before. … that were fitted towards the end of the fieldwork). Similar observations
kind of scared me … disfigured the geezer's face … that was shocking, were made when prisoners talked about the spur kitchens, the ten-
shocking … (Prisoner). sions around cooking, and the availability of weapons:

The prisoner survey results showed that just over a quarter of If ever anything's going to happen in this prison, nine times out of ten
prisoners (28 per cent) feared for their physical safety and 31 per it'll happen in the gym … because there's no bloody cameras down
cent did not ‘feel safe from being injured, bullied or threatened by there, that's why. And you've got heavy weights, dumbbells and all
other prisoners’. Sixty-six per cent of prisoners either ‘agreed’ or that, you could do some serious damage in an environment where
‘strongly agreed’ with the statement, ‘Staff respond promptly to inci- you're not going to be seen (Prisoner).
dents and alarms in this prison’. Fifty-five per cent ‘agreed’ or ‘strong-
ly agreed’ with the item, ‘In this prison I have to be wary of everyone If anybody's got a problem they just say “I'll see you down the gym”
around me’ (see Liebling et al., 2012). … and it is a bit like ‘OK Corral’, so they go down there (Prisoner).
When prisoners’ survey responses were analysed according to the
two main religious identifications (Christian and Muslim) in the pris- Violence had played a large part in the lives of many of the pris-
on there were some interesting differences. Muslim prisoners were oners at Marchwood. They explained that the nature of violence out-
significantly more likely to ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with the side prison (and the offences for which prisoners had been convicted)
statement, ‘There is a lot of trouble between different groups of pris- had changed:
oners in here’. They were not as confident that staff would ‘respond
promptly to incidents and alarms’ as Christian prisoners were. 13 You've got people in here doing a long, long, time, who've done a long
They were more likely to report that they could ‘relax and be them- time, who aren't getting out, so when it comes to assaults, in other
selves’ around other prisoners. Muslim prisoners also reported feeling prisons, some people have an argument over the showers and they
slightly more physically safe than Christian prisoners, although this have a fight, a fisticuffs, whatever, but in here, ‘cause of the serious
difference was not statistically significant. These results support a hy- nature of the crimes what people are in for, any incident's going to
pothesis that Muslim prisoners felt more ‘collective’ as well as ‘oppo- be much worse in here than it is going to be in a normal prison and
sitional’ or distrusting of staff. I don't think it's just here. I think that's all dispersals (Prisoner).
The atmosphere could feel tense when tempers flared. Prisoners
were sensitive to both the potential for violence and of the complex-
Violence, fear of violence and safety in relation to
ity of decisions to get involved: that is, loyalty to others versus risk to
Muslim prisoners
A significant number of prisoners talked about violence in relation
Interviewer (I): When do you feel less safe, are there certain occasions to Muslim prisoners in interviews; several believed that ‘the Muslim
or places? Prisoner (P): When you can feel that there is … aggression influence’ was responsible for much of the violence in Marchwood;
say, on the wing, when you can feel that someone's got a problem with others felt that it was simply a part of prison life that had to be accept-
someone else and it might go off at any time. I: Yeah, a bit bubbly? ed and that it was unrelated to faith issues:
P: Yeah, I feel unsafe then because … have I got to get involved in it?
You know what I mean? Is it one of my mates? Like the officers are go- When you start talking about gangs you start to relate it to violence,
ing to come and jump on him and bend him up, that means I've got to you start to relate it to solidarity of a gang, prisoner on prisoner
A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424 419

retribution …, I wouldn't say it's anything to do with a Muslim gang One of the prisoners present at the incident gave his perspective:
or anything to do with religion, it's more to do with just prison life
and that's how prison life is, it just so happens that because there's I: Have you ever had to jump in and help one of your friends? P: Near-
a large population of Muslim prisoners, then they say ‘oh, there's go- ly. I was very close to jumping in, I didn't agree with what the officers
ing to be conflicts between Muslims and non Muslims’. Not because did and I was going to sort of jump in, there was three involved, four
the Muslims target non-Muslims, because that's not the case, but altogether. I: Would you say that they represent different groups on
more because that's prison life and it's inevitably going to happen this spur? P: No, I don't think anyone represents anything on here on-
(Prisoner). ly your own person at the end of the day. What I think it was just …
an argument got out of hand, one person was saying something about
The alliances and allegiances amongst prisoners were complex: another person, as they call it ‘Chinese Whispers’, and he put it on
loyalties were equivocal, and the traditional sub-cultural expectation that person and that person then got a bit aggro about it; it was
that other prisoners would ‘back you up’ was fragile. The risk of being handbags at 50 paces. But I don't like to see violence, I come in like
involved in the sub-culture or in violence was too great a threat to a violent person, I've got two uncles just finished life sentences for
progression for some prisoners, whilst others maintained that they murder, all my life I've been around violence or drugs and drink. I've
would step in to protect their friends in prison, even if reluctantly: come away in prison and I've tried to change that and get away from
There was a sense of insecurity amongst prisoners: to identify a drugs, violence (Prisoner).
friend or foe was not straightforward. White, non-Muslim prisoners
feared Muslim attacks and were aware of the possible consequences
Another prisoner provided an explanation for what happened,
of an altercation with a Muslim prisoner:
illustrating the expectation that Muslim prisoners did not fight
amongst themselves:
You can't have a fight with one Muslim without all of them getting
involved (Prisoner).
… there's a lot of politics that goes on around in prison and what
If I had an issue now with a fellow that was Muslim and I hit him or should have happened that day, if two people are fighting, according
he hit me and I defended myself or something, then nine times out of to Islam what's supposed to happen is, you're supposed to stop them,
ten you're watching your back now ‘cause you're getting it with a you know, we're not supposed to allow them to fight. But what hap-
weight down the gym or something because they say, like, if you hit pened that day was you had some people that were trying to stop it
a brother, we'll defend our brother and that's how it's escalated, like and you had some people that was joining in, and that caused prob-
a vendetta, do you know what I mean? (Prisoner). lems with the rest of the place because we're thinking “hold on, you're
jumping in? You're not supposed to choose sides, you're supposed to
One thing it says in the Qur'an is basically if you see another brother just stop it”, you know, and just pull them apart sort of thing, and that
getting attacked you should always intervene and try to stop the fight, caused then like little waves around the place (Prisoner).
so I think that's why a lot of people is converting into Muslims because
if they become a Muslim now … that person over there can't attack me In a follow-up incident to this fight on the wing, just over five
because … the brothers will stop it from happening. (Prisoner) weeks later, one of the prisoners was seriously assaulted by several
prisoners whilst attending the Muslim Friday prayer service in one
In general, Muslim prisoners said they did not ‘let each other fight’ of the workshops; he had had his face and throat slashed. The injuries
(although when incidents did occur, they were serious – see the at- he sustained led to severe bleeding and he was taken to hospital for
tack on a prisoner in Friday prayer service, below). surgery requiring fifty stitches. The incident was referred to the police
Among the prominent incidents that took place during the field- for investigation and was, apparently, considered to be a case of
work (which structured staff and prisoners’ experience significantly attempted murder, possibly to avenge the previous attack. Prisoners
at the time) was an altercation during the serving of lunch on B talked about the divisive impact the location of this incident had
Wing. Two prisoners were involved in a fight (three other prisoners within the Muslim community; that it was instigated in a place of
subsequently actively stepped in). The incident resulted in a lock- worship was considered disrespectful:
down of the wing for over three hours and the planned removal of
two prisoners to the Segregation Unit. Whilst conflict amongst This assault happened two Fridays ago. That's created a huge divide
prisoners was expected, and quite frequent, what was considered in the Muslims, that has. I knew who it was but he's such a nice fella
unusual and, to some Muslim prisoners, disappointing about this in- but wolf in sheep's clothing, isn't it? That's shook everyone up, that
cident was that the original fight involved two Muslims (one of has ‘cause of where it happened; in the prayer service. I mean,
these prisoners was a TACT prisoner and it was the research team's churches don't even get done because you don't do things in sacred
interpretation that the clash was to do with issues of power, honour, places so, you know, a lot of the Muslims now are, sort of, saying it
and pride): shouldn't have happened and they're bang out of order. Whereas
the other Muslims were saying well no, he was right to do it ‘cause
Even the screws must have been surprised when that happened, be- the fella was a wrong ‘un. They were all of them Muslims, yeah, at
cause they don't normally see that. Where they normally see either Muslim service (Prisoner).
a Muslim guy's fighting with a non-Muslim and then all of the
Muslims will jump in, when they seen two Muslims fighting like A few months later there was another incident whereby a pri-
they're saying ‘oh, what's going on there?’ but at the same time ev- soner's throat was slashed, this time on A Wing. Due to the severity
eryone has disputes, you understand? (Prisoner) of the injuries (which required forty stitches) a decision was made
to call an Air Ambulance: the police were called to investigate.
It was crazy, I don't know, a misunderstanding between the two lads, These incidents shaped staff and prisoner perceptions and behav-
tensions build up from before… and they ended up fighting. People iour. Beneath the violence, there were complex pressures exerted.
got involved, people want to protect their friends, as someone that Prisoners and staff talked about other forms of coercion, in particu-
knows all of them, I was disappointed that some lad would try to at- lar, in relation to ‘forced conversions’ to Islam. Coercion was a con-
tack another lad, but these things are to be expected, a lot of prisoners stant feature of prison life, and this was one of its contemporary
are getting heated (Prisoner). manifestations.
420 A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

Coercion, intimidation, and the flow of power upbringing was, how he grew up, and that's what he's like, that's
his circumstance, that's not to do with him being a Muslim (Officer).
I've worked on the landings for God knows how many years, I know
Actions and loyalties were strategic: everyone ‘used’ others within
what threat these people are under, what life is like, it's an animal
the prisoner population to follow their own agenda. Individual rea-
world in here … they have no choice, it's either they do that or they
sons for action were diverse and well hidden, but they revolved
die, or they end up in hospital with severe injuries (Officer).
around self-protection and integration with useful others. Any kind
of outsider status, like having no income, no family-ties or friendships
Prisoners compared living at Marchwood to ‘swimming in a shark
on the outside, or no associates on the inside, constituted a point of
tank’. A high-security prison environment held multiple potential
threats to one´s life and safety, and required rapid adaptation. ´Surviv-
al’ meant, amongst other things, finding out about and complying
The money we provide for the new guy coming in to become a Muslim
with codes of conduct imposed by powerful groups. Some prisoners
… you know that if I look after you in prison … for example, buy you
exerted influence, and prisoners and staff were aware of the univer-
clothes, buy you shoes, buy you canteen, outside money, then I can
sality of these social and group mechanisms in prison but argued
use you … like you are slave [sic], you understand? (Prisoner).
that the power being wielded had become confounded by faith dis-
putes, identities and presentations.
If you don't join the Muslim population some people say, then you get
Staff described the pressure that prisoners were under to choose
taxed … you have to pay a price for not joining, so you get looked after …
sides, or strategically join the most dominant group and thus be
It could be a chicken or it could be tobacco, it could be anything, so that
protected, or to fight alone. Any weakness constituted a point of at-
you get protected (Officer).
tack for leaders and other influential prisoners wanting to gain fol-
This ‘entrepreneurial’ or racketeering behaviour made vulnerable
lowers to build up or strengthen their own powerbase:
prisoners enter into dependency relationships that could be abused
by dominant groups. It was important to be a member of the most
I think it's just about … getting more people on side, it's kind of like
powerful group, to attain other advantages, like preferred access to
the football mentality, you know, you get football hooliganism when
hard-fought territories. One particular sphere of space control was
people go just to cause trouble and you get big groups? I think it's
the spur´s kitchen where prisoners could cook their own food. It
kind of like that, the more we have the more powerful we are, and
was one of the most coveted facilities by long-term prisoners. Because
then the fear comes from what that big group could do, the potential,
its space and opening hours were limited, it was a scarce good:
you know? (Officer)

P: We have kitchens here and we can go and cook meals, we've had
Once a group were high in numbers, they held more power to
incidences on this spur even, going in there, try and do yourself a ba-
exert serious pressure on others. The group were able to capitalise
con sandwich, or cooking a bit of pork in the oven. I: So it restricts or
on feelings of fear, hopelessness or loneliness to make people join
makes you feel like you can't do what you would normally do? P: No,
in. The most effective means to gain immediate power over individ-
they tell you straight! “Take that off the oven I want to cook”, what-
uals were threats to life, or the promise of violence.
ever they're bloody cooking. You point out “I was here first” and
The current powerful group were represented by Muslim pris-
you've got every other bloody Muslim on your back then as well.
oners at Marchwood at the time of the research. Prisoners and staff
I: Right, so is there an element of fear amongst other prisoners that
described some acts of intimidation and coercion as follows:
aren't Muslim prisoners to not do that then? P: [Affirmative noise]
most of them won't own up to fear but there is that fear there, you
I had to take the poppy off and then they found out me brother was in have a problem with a Muslim you've got a problem with however
the army so I went through a lot of shit. People shouting out the win- many hundred there is here (Prisoner).
dows. Yeah, when the squaddies were getting killed, out the windows,
hope it's your brother … Your wife's burning in hell ‘cause she's not a Me and me mate used to cook every week, but we've stopped that be-
Muslim and, like, ridiculous shit, like, but it gets you down. It does get cause it was just not worth the aggravation. If you want that many
you down (Prisoner). Muslims in here you need to set up kitchens for them as well. I: It's
only a small kitchen anyway. P: Yeah it's poxy for forty-odd blokes,
We had a fellow come into the Seg, I took him to hospital, big black one bloody cooker and that's it. I: So it's quite easy to get control of
fellow, and he had been scalded with whatever they had used … that area in a way? P: Yeah they just dominate it, they do (Prisoner).
and it had gone over his head, his shoulders, chest and arm I think,
and he was in [a] Serious Burns Unit … because he had refused to Membership of the Muslim community and certain tenets of the
go over … So that's what they do … it's not a faith, it's a gang … I faith could be abused by subgroups or individuals to “legitimately”
mean there's threats to their families … threats to them, there's pres- perpetuate outside criminal and gang behaviour:
sure too (Officer).
Obviously, you have got the knobheads that are using it for power. It's
According to staff and prisoners ‘the Muslim issue’ represented mostly the black geezers who got this, kind of, gang type of mentality,
one version of a typical prison and social phenomenon: who are using it because they're supposed to look after each other
and no one else should be able to harm a Muslim and all this kind
I think there's fears because there's always been prisoners who will of stuff. So that is, like, breeding gang rules. It's kind of an underlying
bully, as the percentage of Muslims rises the chances that one of those thing, like, in the street, that's the same type of thing you'd apply in a
bullies is a Muslim is always there. I think we've got a prisoner on the gang, where you'd say “You can't touch him ‘cause he's with me.”
anti-bullying scheme at the moment who is a Muslim but is also a (Prisoner).
prisoner who's always been a bully, he's very unpredictable, he's
assaulted lots of members of staff at this and other establishments, What it is, is people get into arguments with people over things and
but I don't for one minute think that if he became a Christian tomor- then these guys, what are using it as this gang, type of thing, they then
row that would stop, he's always going to be a bully, I've seen his sen- find something that is agreeable to the real staunch Muslims. So for in-
tence, his report, his pre-convictions, what his offence was, what his stance, me and you are alright, you're not a Muslim, we have a little
A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424 421

argument. I want to do something to you but I don't want to do it myself 3. Conversion of others – recruitment into the faith.
or I don't want to be seen to just be doing something to you … let's say 4. Violence and ‘enforcement’ of religious practices (such as forbidding
me and you are selling drugs, yeah? Something goes wrong and I'm an- the cooking of bacon in spur kitchens, or of undressing to shower).
gry with you. I'm a Muslim. I'm not supposed to be selling drugs, so I 5. Use of the law (e.g. application for judicial review of segregation);
can't go to my Muslim brothers and say I was selling drugs ‘cause and
they're going to say what you doing selling drugs? But if I wait a couple 6. Rejection of the authority of ‘prison Imams’ by ideological leaders.
of weeks and I can say he keeps playing music loud when I'm trying to
Most of the above strategies fall into Cohen and Taylor's categories
pray, someone speaks to him, couple of weeks later you say it again. He
(outlined in their classic prison text, Psychological Survival) of ‘self-
keeps doing it. He keeps playing his music. Next thing you know, now
protection’ and ‘campaigning’ and a new category of ‘recruiting’. Evi-
someone wants to do something to him and really all it was is that he
dence of ‘confronting’: escaping, hunger strikes or dirty protest was
ran off with your drugs or whatever else, but you just used the situation,
not seen. Cohen and Taylor suggest that prisoners are shown in most so-
manipulated the situation (Prisoner).
ciological studies to adapt rather than resist.15 These strategies were
undermining, in the sense that staff were unclear about their authority
There was dispute about what was ‘respect’ for each other's rules,
in these areas, but they included legitimate claims. There were many
and what constituted intimidation, or what constituted a ‘gang’ and
ways in which prisoners could ‘appear resistant’ visually, or by accumu-
what was ‘a few of us with a nice atmosphere’. It was difficult for
lating ‘controversial’ material goods like multiple foreign language reli-
staff and prisoners to know what was ‘really’ going on. Action was co-
gious texts, but these activities and signals were contestable (they could
vert. Interpretations of events were inconsistent, and myths emerged.
be ‘mere assertions of identity’) in a way that efforts to ‘control space’
Prisoner relationships were difficult to evaluate because much ac-
(i.e. determine what went on in the kitchens) were not. It seemed to
tivity was instrumental and strategic. Faith was confounded with
be the case that few of the faith-related behaviours defended by many
race. Individual prisoners would relate to groups or other individuals
whilst in prison had been imported from prisoners’ lives outside. A pris-
because they were forced to do so, or wanted to take advantage of
on specific version of faith-related claims had developed.
them. They would not have related to them in this way on the out-
The relevance of the Cohen and Taylor analysis, as applied to
side. According to staff and prisoners, life in the high-security estate
Marchwood, is that as the authors argued in their study, prisoners
resembled a ‘parallel universe’ with its own reality and rules. People
needed a workable sustaining ideology in order to survive long-
within it would rarely display their true allegiances or their true
term imprisonment. Those without retreated or fought in self-
self. They were preoccupied with their own adaptation:
destructive ways; their day-to-day problems became easier to deal
with in un-reflexive ways, but the ultimate existential problem
At the end of the day this thing is not real. This thing what everyone's
(which was, then, fear of deterioration) became more and more
doing, it's not real. And obviously, if you have a real friendship, it can
acute. In Marchwood in 2010, the major existential problem was no
combat it. But it's all these kind of fake friendships (Prisoner).
longer, ‘how am I going to be when I get out?’ but ‘how can I create
meaning and identity in an environment with so little hope?’ This
There was a clear perception among prisoners that a new power
was a fundamentally different kind of problem related to the length
base had emerged. It was not clear how far faith mattered in its com-
of sentences, their indeterminate nature, and aggregate or non-
position and appearance in prison or how willing its members were
personalised as well as cautious approaches to risk assessment. The
to ‘belong’. Some organisation and strategy was detectable, with
authors argued that whatever ideology is adopted for surviving im-
some resonances with (but also some important differences from)
prisonment is related to prisoners’ view of authority. The appeal of
other periods of penal history.
the Muslim faith was understandable under current conditions.
Finally, the ‘problem of trust’ is considered. Given the account so
Identity and resistance: Pushing back the application of power
far, we could conclude with some confidence that the low but work-
able levels of trust found in the prison twelve years earlier, that
To the extent that there was evidence of growing bids for power
helped prison life to ‘go on’, had diminished.
made by new Muslim sub-groups, many similarities (and some
important differences) could be detected between the phenomenon
Trust and its decline at Marchwood
of politicised prisoners organising themselves to push back staff in
Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and a (less politicised, and less
If distrust reaches upper limits, it can produce escalation of mutual
organised) group of prisoners exerting a form of collective power at
suspicion and hostility. Trust operates as a ‘lubricant of social co-
Marchwood. Prison scholars have described the ways in which para-
operation’ but is also necessary for individual mental health’
military prisoners ‘resisted’ (that is, generated and displayed opposi-
(Liebling, & assisted by Arnold, H., 2004: 243).
tion to the application of power) during their imprisonment over
Trust had declined at Marchwood, for complex reasons relating to
several decades, including strategies of a) escape, b) dirty protest
the changing conditions and terms of imprisonment, population char-
and hunger strike, c) violence, and d) attitudes towards and use of
acteristics and relationships, and official priorities outlined above. The
the law (McEvoy, 2001). They also resisted the prison regime in
difference between ‘a little’ trust, and ‘even less’ was small (statisti-
other ways, establishing accepted practices that gradually enhanced
cally speaking) in a prison setting (see Liebling, & assisted by
their living conditions. This kind of campaigning was often regarded
Arnold, H., 2004: 240–51), but had major sociological implications.
as ‘legitimate’, but merged into ‘conditioning’ – a form of pushing
Trust was a requirement of hope and also of human flourishing
back (e.g. resisting searching) that culminated in the escapes of six
(Liebling, & assisted by Arnold, H., 2004: 240), and identity.
High Risk Category A prisoners (five of whom were convicted IRA ter-
The research team's conversations with prisoners, both in the Di-
rorists) from Marchwood in 1994.
alogue group and in interviews, confirmed their early impression
Drawing on these insights, it might be plausible to characterise the
both that trust mattered (‘It's all about trust, innit?’) and that there
‘resistance’ of a minority of activist Muslim prisoners at Marchwood
was a major ‘problem of trust’ in the prison:
as follows: 14

1. Strengthening their claims to religious practices and identities (the That is difficult, who to trust in prison (Prisoner).
collective assertion of religious status).
2. Avoidance of and distancing from staff. Trust is the biggest thing (Officer).
422 A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424

If trust involves a ‘willingness to be vulnerable to another party’, in favour of intelligence gathering, security, and risk management;
an expectation that the trusted party ‘will behave in a way beneficial previous abuse of trust by prisoners, with reference to the escapes of
to the trustor’, ‘risk of harm to the trustor if the trustee does not be- 1994 (“Fundamental to the lack of trust is the escapes”; Officer) but
have accordingly’ and ‘the absence of control over actions performed also to other breaches of boundaries; and an increased reliance on for-
by the trustee’ (see Stompka, 1999), in many ways it is not surprising mal authority and Security Information Reports rather than human
that a maximum security prison is a generally low trust environment. relationships:
It is also the case, however, that: higher levels of trust were found in Explanations for the low levels of trust of staff by prisoners includ-
Marchwood in 1998/9; and levels of trust in Marchwood were lower ed an increasing social and cultural distance between staff and
in 2009 (although not to a statistically significant level) than in three prisoners — ethnicity was a ‘barrier to trust’; information sharing, re-
other high security prisons (see Liebling et al., 2012). port writing and the lack of confidentiality in the prison (prisoners
There was a newly powerful ‘culture of distrust’ at Marchwood. felt ‘misrepresented’ on file); a (growing) prisoner culture of disen-
Only 12 per cent of prisoners ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the gagement from staff, with negative peer perceptions of extended con-
statement, ‘I trust the officers in this prison’; nine per cent felt that tact (he's a ‘screw-boy’); experiences of inconsistency in the rules,
‘this prison is good at placing trust in prisoners; 54 per cent ‘dis- staff attitudes; the job description of an officer, which denotes that
agreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement ‘I feel that I am in some circumstances a good relationship is irrelevant and is over-
trusted quite a lot in this prison’; and 24 per cent ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly ridden by security; and prisoners witnessing staff breaking the rules
agreed’ that they trusted other prisoners. Levels of trust were lowest (for example, taking short cuts) or acts of ‘unprofessionalism’.
between Muslim prisoners and staff, and (according to broader dis- Explanations for the low levels of trust of prisoners by other pris-
cussions) between prisoners in general and psychologists (see Warr, oners included perceptions that relationships were not genuine, but
in preparation). were based on convenience, usefulness and personal or group agendas.
Trust had a significant impact on relationships within the prison: The prisoner culture was more individualistic than ‘solidarity’ as a result
to trust carried considerable risk and so had limits. Whilst some pris- of the emphasis on risk assessment and a desire to progress through the
oners acknowledged a need for trust, many denied it to themselves, system. The group dynamics were newly complicated (that is, a new
claiming not to trust anyone, and tried to negate the need (‘I don't order was under formation), with changing allegiances and identifica-
put myself in a place where I need to trust someone’). Prisoners tions one of the features of this new order. There were unknowns in
trusted most other prisoners they had known outside prison and the environment, including the reputation, nationality, offence, and
only extended this to one or two other prisoners. For several pris- (often fake) identities of other prisoners; and there were assumptions
oners their trust in others (or ‘the system’) had been ‘destroyed’ as about the increased use of informants, involving disclosure to the au-
a result of the way in which they had been convicted in situations thorities (police) and officers.
where they had granted trust and this had been betrayed by another Explanations for the relatively low levels of trust of staff by other
prisoner or by the police. Prisoners’ general lack of trust in the crim- staff included the potential for conditioning and corruption; inexperi-
inal justice system pervaded the prison environment. They were ence and a belief that (female) officers and specialists were easily
distrustful of risk assessment processes and the procedures for pro- influenced or manipulated; officers witnessing other officers turning
gression. This led to disengagement, frustration and bitterness. As their backs on incidents and not going to the aid of colleagues; a de-
one prisoner said, “You've got to trust the system to work with it”. veloping culture whereby officers were encouraged to ‘paper’ each
Another said: other (report on inappropriate conduct); an erosion of traditional of-
ficer cultural norms (such as not disrespecting other officers in the
I feel alienated, I feel strange. The mental effect is there. You don't en- presence of prisoners); lack of trust from managers (to make deci-
gage, you don't trust, and it makes you very lonely and anti-social in sions, use discretion and initiative and problem-solve on the land-
a way (Prisoner). ings) filtering down to wing staff; a lack of consistency in applying
the rules and some apparent prisoner appeasement: there was ‘con-
flict’ between two groups of staff: those who challenged prisoners
Summary and conclusions: Prisons and the problem of trust and those who did not.
So prison life went on ‘without trust’ and this was experienced as
Returning to a prison after a twelve year break to repeat a sociolog- difficult and painful. This meant that there was almost an ‘anti-infor-
ical study was a surprisingly instructive and difficult exercise. Major mation flow’ rather than a ‘dynamic’ information flow in the prison.
changes in the structure and nature of staff-prisoner, and prisoner- Talk and contact had been replaced by recorded information and Se-
prisoner relationships were evident, and faith identities (real and curity Information Reports (SIRs), and prisoners were careful about
adopted) were playing a new and complex role in prisoner dynamics. their presentation and talk. This made working out the role and alli-
Allegiances, identities, and motives were ‘fake’. Marchwood was suf- ances of different prisoner groups and individuals, as well as manag-
fering from a major ‘problem of trust’ at the time of Study 2 and this ing the prison on a day to day basis, extremely difficult. For prisoners,
seemed to be linked to growing levels of fear and violence. Paradoxical the problems of friendship, authenticity, meaning and survival were
perhaps, in a high security prison, but it is significant that some trust intensified. Feeling mis-recognised, distant and ‘other’ was painful,
flowed in Study 1, and this small quantity of guarded trust helped and a search took place by most prisoners for a solution to this new
the prison to function, and the prisoners to feel treated at least reason- pain of imprisonment.
ably humanely. It is not the quantity of imprisonment (alone) that This study was unusual, in that the same researcher (with a differ-
threatens order and perceptions of legitimacy, but its quality and ent team) conducted the research after a twelve year gap (whilst
tone, and the nature of the prison's management and mission (for a doing other prisons research, elsewhere). There were complex rea-
useful discussion, see Useem & Piehl, 2006; also Bottoms & Tankebe, sons for the research request, related to fears about radicalisation
2012). Explanations for the low levels of trust of prisoners by staff in the prison, and apparently distant relationships between staff
included the emphasis in the prison on the risk of ‘conditioning’ and and prisoners. The research was not designed to be a replica of the
manipulation by prisoners; the emphasis on the threats posed by ter- original study methodologically, as additional methods, developed
rorist risk, extremism and radicalisation; the lack of opportunities for since the first, were also used. It was significantly more generously
interaction outside of brief and formal regime or sentence planning funded, and it took place after considerable ‘conceptual and empirical
processes; a moderate risk of serious assault; a shift away from per- maturity’ had been gleaned from other research projects, wise col-
sonal officer and personal development work in high security prisons leagues, and experience.
A. Liebling, H. Arnold / Journal of Criminal Justice 40 (2012) 413–424 423

Repeat sociological studies of the prison are not without their and trade, the battle for respect, intimidation and testing, a primitive but intricate
and defensive code of vengeance, and much anxiety about safety and reputation. ‘Insti-
methodological limitations and challenges. Acquiring access, funding,
tutions have little legitimacy’, legal codes are ‘not trusted’, and ‘frustration has been
and finding the time for close ethnographic exploration of any prison, powerfully building’ (p. 11). People ‘watch their backs’ and are ‘careful how they pre-
are (as Simon argues, 2000) major difficulties. The point of the re- sent themselves’ (p. 21). Prisoners talked about their lives on the street (significantly
search was not the comparison per se, but an investigation of the more than they had in the first study) in these terms.
prison's current state. The impact of the principal researcher's per- 7. A common law provision used to convict people of murder on the basis of their
association with the principal killer.
sonal observations and responses to the (very different) experience 8. See further, Dix-Richardson, 2002; Beckford, Joly, & Khosrokhavar, 2005.
came as something of a shock, and has been the subject of consider- 9. Prisoners convicted of offences against the Terrorism Act.
able reflection ever since. Researchers change, over time, and it is 10. What they meant (or had heard) was that there were fewer Muslim prisoners,
possible that we become sensitised to different aspects of the prison and less tolerance towards them in a less ‘liberal’ (and more Labour-voting) part of the
environment as our lives and expertise develop in different ways. It
11. An attempt to analyse the 61 assaults for which data were available more sys-
was impossible to disentangle with confidence the effects of ‘fear in tematically was hampered by lack of relevant information. No data were available on
the air’ from real changes in levels of risk and violence. There are the ethnicity, faith or age of most of the perpetrators or victims.
major difficulties for (in this case, white, British female) prison re- 12. For further detail on the staff assaults, see Liebling et al., 2012.
searchers exploring matters of faith and ethnicity in high security set- 13. Of the 159 randomly selected prisoners to take part in the survey, 50 described
themselves as ‘Christian’ and 52 as ‘Muslim’. Since these were the largest categories by
tings where identities and risks are highly contested and largely which prisoners self-identified, and because of the dynamics reported in interviews, a
hidden from view (see Quraishi, 2008). 16 What this account suggests, comparative analysis of the survey responses of ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ prisoners was
we argue, is that changes in the structure, culture and values of larger conducted. Other self-descriptions included ‘No faith’, Buddhist’, and Rastafarian’.
society are powerfully reflected in social relationships and experi- 14. Resistance might be used as a term in situations where rebellious acts are con-
nected to perceptions of repressive behaviour and values, aspects of the social struc-
ences in prison. A different kind of long-term imprisonment is de-
ture, and class relationships.
scribed here – a more intrusive, brutal, pointlessly long, and less 15. These modes of resistance or adaptations are historically sited. The authors
endurable kind – with power flowing in new directions and trust identified five ‘types of resistance’ at the time of their research (late 1960s/early
hard to come by. In only 12 years, the prison felt like a different place. 1970s): (i) Self-protecting. This has been called ‘gleaning’ in other studies — taking
David Garland has argued that social theory and history can contrib- things from prison; assertively playing ‘real’ roles, making active sense of what is hap-
pening; mind-building, realising the self against the institution rather than within it.
ute significantly to our understanding of punishment, but that theoretical
This is a quest for a legitimate deviant identity. (ii) Campaigning. This is persistent pro-
projects should be integrated with close empirical detail (1990). So we fessional complaining (what Mathiesen called ‘censoriousness’) — on individual and
should constantly be asking, how are specific punishment practices expe- collective issues. (iii) Escape. Contemplating escape is an effective diversion and serves
rienced, and delivered? This study raises many questions about the kind an important function in a prisoners’ relationship to authority (whose main role is to
prevent escapes). (iv) Striking. Hunger strikes are powerful and evoke a sympathetic
of imprisonment we are creating, as well as about the fast-changing so-
response. (v) Confronting. Political campaigning (anti- authoritarian). This may unite
cial world and interpersonal relationships the prison reflects. some prisoners on race or class grounds — touching a collective political sentiment,
building a common identity and sense of purpose. Prisoners responded to prison differ-
Acknowledgements ently, but there were links between their outside criminal characteristics and careers
(and especially the nature of their relationship with authority) and their prison adap-
tations (Cohen & Taylor, 1972, p.151). Some adaptations ‘work’ better than others.
We would like to acknowledge the outstanding research assistance
16. The third team member, Christina Straub, is a German cultural scientist. Our ef-
of Christina Straub throughout this study, with whom we plan to write forts to recruit a Muslim ethnographer were confounded by ‘security concerns’.
much more, and the encouragement and guidance of Shadd Maruna,
Richard Sparks, Jonathan Steinberg, Monica Lloyd and Tony Bottoms
in this project. We are indebted to our ‘Dialogue’ group, and to many References
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