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Prison Safety and Security

Read on to find out more about our research on prison safety and security.

Aerial photograph of a UK prison
Can prisons be safe? Image of HMP Berwyn by University of Bath

The Centre for Prisons Research is committed to understanding, theorising, and sharing knowledge about prison safety. In so doing, we explore self-harm, violence and victimisation, indebtedness, drug use, suicide, homicide, natural and other deaths in custody. Our research aims to explore the nature, causes, context and prevention of harm, but ultimately, we seek to answer the question: can prisons be safe?

Project in focus: Understanding and Preventing Prison Homicide

Set against a background of an increasing number of homicides in prison, the Centre’s co-director, Dr Kate Gooch, is currently completing a unique multi-method study on prison homicide. Internationally, there is a dearth of empirical research on prison homicide, and this innovative study seeks to address that gap.

The project has three specific aims: 1) to understand how perpetrators understand and explain prison homicide; 2) to understand the experiences of criminal justice practitioners in responding to prison homicide; 3) to explore why some prisons may experience a ‘cluster’ of prison homicides and other serious events. In pursuit of these aims, the research not only draws on semi-structured interviews with perpetrators of murder, manslaughter and attempted murder within prison, but also draws on focus groups with criminal justice staff and immersive ethnographic research in a dispersal prison.

This research is ongoing. For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Kate Gooch directly.

Project in focus: International Study of Prison Violence in England, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

This unique international study draws on empirical research conducted within prisons in England, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to better understand the problem of prison violence, and how it compares across jurisdictions. This project is led by Dr Kate Gooch and is conducted with Dr Katherine Doolin (University of Auckland), Georgina Barkham (University of Bath) and Professor James Treadwell (Staffordshire university). It draws on semi-structured interviews, survey data and observational data to critically analyse the nature, dynamics and causes of prison violence.

This research is ongoing. For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Kate Gooch directly.

Project in focus: Prison Bullying, Violence and Victimisation

Funded by the University of Birmingham between 2014 – 2017, the Centre’s Co-Director Dr Kate Gooch (PI) conducted research with Prof James Treadwell (PI) in a Young Offender Institution (YOI) in England. The purpose of this study was to explore the nature, prevalence, and incidence of bullying amongst young male prisoners (18-21 years old).

Kate and James adopted a multi-method approach, combining ethnographic, qualitative and quantitative data during their nine-month fieldwork in the YOI. They found that whilst it is possible to define bullying, operationalising that definition is difficult. Bullying is often difficult to record and evidence accurately. They recommended that the YOI should develop a ‘victimisation’ rather than an ‘anti-bullying’ strategy as this would not only be more effective but would also ensure that all instances of victimisation are investigated, challenged and penalised appropriately. Kate and James concluded that creating a safe, decent and secure prison is a key concern for both staff and prisoners and, ultimately, in preventing the next victim, everybody benefits.

To find out more about the study’s aims, design, findings and recommendations, read the full report on prison bullying and victimisation by Kate Gooch and James Treadwell.

Project in focus: Understanding and Preventing Self-Harm and Violence at a local male prison

Ruth Doubleday, Georgina Barkham and Dr Kate Gooch are conducting research in a local male prison in the South West at the behest of the Governing Governor. Set against a background of high rates of self-harm and violence, this study uses a multi-method approach to understand the incidence of self-harm, suicide attempts and violence in a local public prison. This research seeks to better understand the context, causes and culture of self-harm, suicide attempts, and violence, as well as the role of previously under-explored factors such as hope and hopelessness, human connection, trust, and identity. The research hopes to better understand ‘dual harm’ and the extent to which high rates of violence are related to high rates of self-harm, or are completely independent.

This research is ongoing. For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Kate Gooch directly.