What Is The Meaning Of Segregation For Prisoners:
: Creating a space for survival by reframing contextual power

  • Stephan Kirby

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background: Segregation, within the context of this study, is the removal of a prisoner from the wider prison to an environment that is regimented and controlling, and functions through enforced solitude. There is very little research that explores this environment from the perspective of the prisoners who experience it. By using the voices of the prisoners this study provides rich description of the conceptual understanding of how they and resolved their segregation experiences. Research Aim: The aim of this research was to develop a grounded theory of how prisoners gave meaning to their segregated environment experience. Methodology: This study was guided by a constructivist epistemology and the principles and process of grounded theory (Constructivist Grounded Theory) as described by Glaser, Strauss, and Charmaz. Data was gathered from a participant group of prisoners who were experiencing, or had experienced within the previous two months, time in segregation, from one specific Category A prison, as well as comparable case studies. Data was collected through semi structured interviews, and case study documentary analysis, and analysed using the concurrent processes of constant comparative analysis, data collection, and theoretical sampling. Results: The participants expressed that the main concern of their time in segregation was a desire to survive this experience. They expressed this desire, and the actions and behaviours necessary to achieve it, through a process conceptualised as reframing contextual power. This has three 'subcategories‘ 'Power Posturing', 'Power Positioning', and 'Power Playing', each comprising of further subdivisions of the conceptualisation of the participants main concern. These consisted of 'Knowing Fixed Rules', 'Reading Emergent Rules', 'Relating', 'Resistance', 'Being Bad', 'Being Mad', and 'Being Cool'. Power was the major interlinking concept and this was fundamental to the strategies and actions necessary for the participants to achieve their main concern. While presented as three distinct 'subcategories‘ they are neither independent nor hierarchical, rather they are interconnected and interlinked. The participants were active in the utilisation and enactment of power actions and not passive recipients of power. A theoretical exploration of the power inherent in reframing contextual power demonstrated that no one theory or approach can sufficiently explain power within this context. It is proposed that, drawing from a number of theorists, an integrated approach to viewing and understanding such power is required to allow for a more sophisticated understanding of how the participants reframe contextual power. Conclusions: The findings of this study provide a method of understanding how the participants engaged with, and utilised complex strategies to survive the segregated environment experience. The findings also contribute to how we understand the processes of power within this current (and similar) context(s). I consider that the uniqueness of this thesis is important as it contributes to the extant body of knowledge in this field and thus offers a salient message relating to the (potential) future of segregation and the solitary confinement of prisoners.
Date of Award12 Nov 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorChris Stevenson (Supervisor)

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