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Working Title of PhD: Prison, Policy and the Family – examining the constructive role of prison policy in the lives of families across England and Scotland.

 Year commenced PhD study: 2021

Institution/Organisation: University of Edinburgh

Funding Source (if any)  ESRC                       

Full or part-time: Full Time

 PhD Supervisors: Dr Kirkwood, Dr Mullins, and  Professor Richard Sparks

Maximum 250 word synopsis of PhD 

This work will explore how prison policy intervenes in and constructs the lives of families with a member in prison. It is a comparative study across England and Scotland.

While key features of the sociology of punishment (mass imprisonment; rehabilitative strategies; liberal risk management) have clear implications for families, the field has historically considered these phenomena in terms of the state-offender binary. Latterly, a growing body of research has worked to remedy this. This work contributes a new comparative lens, as well as a specific focus on the role of operational prison policy.

The project takes a multi-method approach, including documentary analysis and empirical work with prison staff and families, exploring how documented policy is enacted operationally; how families interpret, translate, and subvert policy discourses that shape their lives and experiences and engaging in normative debate by inviting families to rethink the relationship between prison and the family.

Research questions:

  1. How is the role and responsibility of prison policy in relation to families of prisoners understood across England and Scotland, in policy documents, by prisons staff and prisoners’ families?
  2. What do these insights reveal about the different political rationalities and discourses on prison and the family across England and Scotland?
  3. Drawing on insights from families, how should prisoners’ families be positioned in policy and what needs to change in each jurisdiction to achieve this?

The aim is to contribute to wider perspectives on the sociology of punishment and theories of policy and policymaking, as well, as literature on prisoners’ families.



University of Edinburgh

Research Themes

Punishment, Citizenship and Communities

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