Gray Bartels

PhD student

University of Edinburgh


Working Title of PhD: Is Substance Use Disorder (SUD) recovery possible in prisons? A study of autonomy

Year commenced PhD study: 2021 Institution/Organisation: University of Edinburgh

Full or part-time: Full time

PhD Supervisors: Professor Richard Sparks and Dr Angus Bancroft

Synopsis of PhD:

Gray’s (they/them) research explores whether recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is possible in prison, due to the lack of autonomy characteristic of that environment. The research questions are:

1. What is SUD recovery and what role does autonomy play in it?
2. How is autonomy, physical and emotional, limited in prison and by which means?
3. Therefore, can recovery be possible in prison?

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) recovery is vastly misunderstood, partly due to a lack of centering the experiences of people with SUD. Testimonies are seen as unreliable; their vernacular has rarely interacted with academic spaces. There isn’t enough information to know exactly how many people have SUD in prison, and percentages vary. However, some estimates place the number over 50%.

Their thesis’ aims will be achieved through an extensive literature review and interviews with people with SUD in prison to collect qualitative data. We have so far failed to thoroughly examine this significant population in an agentic manner; this would be the first step to dismantling oppressive, unhealthy conditions and institutions.


Recent publication: Bartels, K., 2020. ‘Competing Exceptionalisms: A Commentary on Garland’s Characterisation of American Criminal Justice’ Contemporary Challenges: The Global Crime, Justice and Security Journal, 1, pp. 16-22.



University of Edinburgh


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