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This article details how a subset of women can perceive of prison as temporary refuge from the hardships and marginalization they face on the outside. It focuses particularly on a group of 88 women incarcerated in western Canada. A large percentage of these women accentuated several reasons why they saw being incarcerated as a desirable alternative to their marginalized situation in their respective communities. These findings nuance our understanding of the place of prison in the lives of these women and draws attention to notable gaps in Canada’s often-celebrated social welfare system.
SB, K D.Hand D T.D*
This article details how a subset of women can perceive of prison as temporary refuge from the
hardships and marginalization they face on the outside. It focuses particularly on a group of 88
women incarcerated in western Canada. A large percentage of these women accentuated several
reasons why they saw being incarcerated as a desirable alternative to their marginalized situation
in their respective communities. These ndings nuance our understanding of the place of prison
in the lives of these women and draws attention to notable gaps in Canada’s often-celebrated social
welfare system.
Key Words: prison, refuge, female inmates, remand, marginalization, structural
Prisons are a conspicuous part of the contemporary social structure, detaining some
of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized citizens. Researchers have posited that
prisons must consequently have an ‘eligibility’ threshold, whereby inmates’1 living con-
ditions must be sufciently harsh to deter potential offenders and pre-empt criticism
that prisons are ‘too soft’ (Rusche and Kirchheimer 1968; Sparks 1996). Where a so-
ciety draws this threshold is historically and culturally specic. Still, as David Garland
(2000: 94)notes, lesser eligibility in the operation of prisons necessitates that ‘…the dis-
cipline, the diet, the labour requirements, the accommodation and the general living
conditions of penal institutions are seen to be carefully calibrated to ensure that the
overall regime remains sufciently unpleasant to serve as a deterrent to the lowest so-
cial classes’.
This insight is a launching point for a large body of scholarly literature focused on
detailing the many painful aspects of being incarcerated (for an overview, see Haggerty
and Bucerius 2020), including how being incarcerated contributes to further marginal-
ization. However, whether or not someone experiences prison as worse than life in the
community is ultimately a subjective matter and is contingent on that person’s assess-
ment of their overall life circumstances. With that reality in mind, this article draws at-
tention to the lives of 88 women incarcerated in three remand facilities (often referred
to as ‘jails’) in western Canada. Prison, for these women, is often a revolving door. Their
multiple incarcerations are attributable to their poverty and marginalization, factors
that are further compounded by their imprisonment. As our analysis shows, however,
**Sandra Buceriu s, kevin D. Haggert y and Dav id T. Dunford, Department of Sociolog y, Universit y of Alberta, Ed monton,
Alber ta T6G 2H4, Canada;
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ISTD).
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:
1We use the expressions ‘pr isoner’, ‘offender’ and ‘inmate’ interchangeably as our participants dis agreed on which term was
least stigmatizing, a lthough ‘inmate’ wa s generally preferred over the other t wo options.
doi:10.109 3/bjc/azaa073 BRIT. J. CRIMINOL. (2021) 61, 519 537
Advance Access publication 17 November 2020
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these women also see prison as providing a ‘temporary refuge’ from the marginalization
and multiple forms of vulnerability they experience in the community.
Wacquant (2010) has famously suggested that Western societies are witnessing the
emergence of states with an invigorated ‘right hand’ focused on crime control and
the related diminution of the state’s left hand that has traditionally been concerned
with providing social welfare. Our analysis of our participants’ perceptions of their
incarceration sits at the fulcrum of these crime control and social welfare projects
and advances the criminological research on prisons in three ways: (1) it provides a
corrective to the dominant academic orientation relating to women’s prisons, par-
ticularly the common focus on how female inmates are almost exclusively victims of
an alienating or repressive penal regime (see e.g. Pollack 2009; Fa ith 2011; Fili 2013;
McCorkel 2013; Comack 2018; Dewey etal. 2019), (2) it presents an understanding of
how prisons simultaneously display elements of both the right and left hand of the
state by not only punishing our participants and exacerbating their experience of
structural violence but also providing them with temporary respite and 3)it offers
insights into the experiences of women incarcerated in remand facilities, a popula-
tion that has been rarely studied despite the prominent place remand now holds in
the dynamics of contemporary penality (Webster etal. 2009; Ir w in 2013; Statistics
Canada 2017).
We want to be clear at the outset that we are not suggesting that prisons are pleasant
or desirable places. While talking about the temporary benets of prisons, our parti-
cipants also often detailed hardships they experienced in prison, something that the
extant literature documents in detail. Our data need to be understood in the context
of the lives of marginalization and poverty that these women experience while in the
community, where they have conspicuous difculties connecting with the ‘left hand’
of thestate.
Women’s Experiences ofPrison
Women represent a small but growing proportion of admissions to both sentenced
and remand correctional facilities, and there is now an extensive research literature
on women in prison (see e.g. Johnson 2004; Kruttschnitt and Gartner 2005; McCorkel
2013; Lempert 2016; Boswor t h 2017). The depiction of prison in these works tends to
focus on the many forms of suffering experienced by women while incarcerated, often
accentuating distinctively gendered pains of imprisonment. Walker and Worrall (2000),
e.g., describe how women inmates suffer unique ‘pains of indeterminacy’, specically
the loss of control over their fertility and their reduced mothering roles. Dye and Aday
(2013) detail the increased suicide ideation of their female participants compared to
male prisoners. Working comparatively, Crewe etal. (2 017) analyse gendered pains of
imprisonment experienced by both male and female prisoners, nding considerably
higher severity scores for their female participants.
We know little about the day-to-day realities of incarcerated women in Canada, par-
ticularly about women held in the remand system. As de Graaf and Kilty conclude, re-
search in Canada remains ‘limited in its documentation of how criminalized women
understand and conceptualize the conditions of their connement and their material
experiences of captivity’ (de Graaf and Kilty 2016:28).
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Separate research projects by Comack (2018), Jones etal. (2019) and Pelvin (2019)
represent the rare sustained qualitative studies conducted inside of Canadian institu-
tions that detain women. Comack’s Coming Back to Jail is derived from interviews with 42
women detained in a provincial facility in Manitoba. It is one of the few books to (briey)
acknowledge that women can perceive their incarceration as a reprieve (Comack 2018:
208–10). However, the focus of her analysis is on detailing how prison adds ‘another
layer to their lived experience of trauma’ (Comack 2018: 179). Pelvin’s (2019) and Jones
etal.’s (2019) respective research are the only published qualitative studies conducted
inside of remand facilities that include Canadian women as part of their sample. Pelvin
conducted interviews with 60 men and 60 women inside four maximum-security re-
mand facilities in Ontario and focused her analysis on the more debilitating aspects
of remand. While women comprised half of her sample, she does not foreground vari-
ations in the experiences of her male and female participants. Jones etal. (2019) focus
on the experiences of women in both sentenced and remand facilities but concentrate
on the women’s victimization experiences throughout their lifecourse.
A smattering of other qualitative studies of women’s incarceration in Canada has
mostly involved small samples (typically between 10 and 20 participants) of interviews
with women in the community after they have been released from federal institutions
(Pollack 2008; Shantz etal. 2009; Allspach 2010). The majority of these works again de-
pict prison as almost exclusively a repressive institution that produces and compounds
assorted harms and traumas for female prisoners.
Readers of this literature might not anticipate that a large subset of incarcerated women
would consistently see prison as a ‘temporary refuge’, but that was an inescapable nding
in our research. That researchers have not consistently addressed this reality limits our
appreciation for the place of prison in the lives of intensely marginalized women, and
how this situation is itself attributable to broader patterns of structural violence.
Prisons inCanada
We conducted our research in facilities that are part of Canada’s provincial correc-
tional system. There are 177 such institutions spread across an enormous country and
operated by the provincial and territorial governments. The institutions we studied
are austere high-security prisons, and one remand facility (Rocky View) is reputedly
one of the harshest in Canada. Women at each institution were double bunked on
tiered units. Except for those with a ‘mental health’ diagnosis, they were all held on
‘women’s units’, meaning that women facing charges that ranged from murder to rela-
tively minor offences mingled together. The women have access to extremely little or
no programming.
Although the structure of provincial institutions is highly variable, there are generally
two primary types of facilities. The rst is sentenced institutions that detain adult men
and women sentenced to a term of incarceration of fewer than two years. The second is
remand facilities that detain individuals who are legally innocent and held awaiting trial.
As a result, remanded prisons can contain individuals arrested for comparatively minor
offences, such as administrative breaches, minor theft and impaired driving, but also
those accused of particularly serious and high-prole crimes, including murder or ter-
rorist activities. Therefore, remand facilities operate as maximum-security institutions.
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On any given day, Canada’s provincial correctional system holds approximately 25,000
prisoners. Periods of detention in the provincial system—particularly in remand—tend
to be brief. For example, 83 per cent of women released from remand in 2017/18 had
been incarcerated for one month or less (Malak ieh 2019). This translates into a com-
paratively high number of annual admissions to the provincial system at ~250,000 per
year (M ala kieh 2019). One of the most noteworthy developments in Canadian correc-
tions has been the dramatic growth in the remand population (Statistics Canada 2017),
with the remand incarceration rate rising from 12.6 per 100,000 inmates in 1978 to
39.1 in 2007 (Webster et al. 2009: 82). Between 2002 and 2012, the number of adults
on remand grew almost six times more than the number in sentenced custody and, by
2017/18, there were about 50 per cent more adults across the country in remand than
there were in provincial/territorial sentenced facilities. The Prairie Provinces are par-
ticularly notable in this regard as Manitoba saw a 134 per cent increase in the remand
population between 2002 and 2012, while Alberta’s remand population increased 109
per cent during the same period (Statistics Canada 2017). This disparity is most ex-
treme in Alberta, where remanded prisoners now account for fully 70 per cent of those
in the provincial system (Malakieh 2018).
Interviewing IncarceratedWomen
We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with 88 incarcerated women de-
tained in three provincial remand prisons in Western Canada.2 Each institution holds
male and female inmates on segregated units. These facilities were (1) Rocky View
Remand3 (Rocky View), which houses approximately 125 female prisoners, of whom we
interviewed 22, (2) Crestwood Remand Institution (Crestwood), which holds approxi-
mately 80 female inmates, of whom we interviewed 37, and (3) Silverside Correctional
Center (Silverside), where we interviewed 29 of the roughly 100 female prisoners.
We announced our project on the living units, explaining that we were researching
life experiences and group membership in provincial prisons, and asked for volun-
teers. People were generally eager to participate, and we had far more volunteers than
we could accommodate. Our nal sample of 88 women was comprised of 55 per cent
Indigenous individuals.4 These numbers are roughly in keeping with the general stat-
istical prole of incarcerated Indigenous women who accounted for 38 per cent of
adult female custody admissions in the provincial/territorial systems (both remanded
and sentenced) in 2016 (Department of Justice 2017).5 A large percentage of our
2These interviews were augmented by ethnographic observ ations collected at all three institut ions and a quantitat ive sur vey
conducted at one f acilit y, although, in this pap er, we rely almost exclusively on t he interv iewdata.
3We use pseudonyms for the names of the i nstitut ions and for ou r research participants.
4We only asked ou r part icipants at Crestwood speci cally about their et hnicit y. For the other two institutions, we inferred
Indigenou s ancestry by searching the transcripts for instances where the women spontaneously mentioned their Ind igenous
heritage or where they not ed biographical det ails t hat allowed us to infer Indigenous ancestr y, such as say ing that they were
rais ed on a reserve or t hat they or their f amily members a ttended residenti al school. As a re sult, the actu al number of Indi genous
women in our sample is likely higher than indicatedhere.
5The large percentage of Indigenous women in our sa mple demands a separate analy sis specically focused on their unique
experiences and back grounds, somet hing that we are c urrently under taking. For the pu rposes of th is paper, we do not disagg re-
gate our s ample, although we are conscious of the intersect ional nature of t heir marginal ization. While the Indigenous women
appeared to face some of t he situat ions we deta il in th is paper more regula rly and inten sely, these sit uations were broadly fa-
miliar to all classes of the women we interviewed.
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participants—irrespective of ethnicity—observed that they had been in jail on mul-
tiple occasions.
We conducted the interviews one-on-one in private rooms within the prison, usually
adjoining the living units. Using a generalized interview guide, we asked participants
questions about such things as their general life history, prison culture and their rela-
tionship with their family. As is common in qualitative studies, we also gave our partici-
pants license to let their experiences shape the direction of the interviews (Strauss and
Corbin 1990; Glaser and Strauss 2017). Interviews were audio-recorded and averaged
approximately 90 minutes. Recordings were transcribed verbatim and thematically
coded using Nvivo11.
The theme of ‘refuge’ was not an explicit focus of our research. Instead, this subject
typically emerged spontaneously during discussions about other topics in our inter-
view protocols, including those of personal history, release planning, programming,
relationship with family and the drug situation in prison. For example, when asking
our participants to describe their life circumstances in the community, many would
mention how prison provided them with the opportunity to confront their illicit drug
habit. Likewise, when recounting their arrest, some participants told us that they were
relieved to temporarily escape the violence they experienced on the streets.
To ensure analytical rigour, we drew on principles and heuristic devices of grounded
theory (Charma z 2014) when coding and analysing our data set. The authors and three
research assistants initially coded the rst six interviews line-by-line to reveal emergent
categories and themes in our data. After this initial coding phase, we modied our
interview protocols to explore the themes in greater detail. Throughout each stage of
data collection and analysis, we used a constant comparative method where we com-
pared our initial themes and codes with emergent themes, identied patterns and gaps
in our initial coding scheme and developed new conceptual categories (Silverman
2015). This was particularly important when we visited new prisons and had to be atten-
tive to potential contextual differences
We used basic tabular data to identify similarities and differences in the data and
to verify the overall strength of patterns in the ndings. This method also helped us
identify cases that deviated from our observed patterns. After completing all of our
interviews, the authors and three research assistants coded a set of six randomly chosen
interviews to determine whether our coding scheme had to be amended by adding
additional categories. Once we reached between 85 and 90 per cent overlap on the six
randomly chosen transcripts, we coded the transcripts.
Findings: Prison as a TemporaryRefuge
I think [jail’s] like a blessing in disguise, honestly. Alot of people look at it like, ‘Oh my God!’ Like
it’s the worse place. But Ifeel like coming to jail like is a blessing honestly. It’s not like the fucking
[United] States. It’s not like foreign countries, like, where you have to sleep with bugs and shit, like
Mexico and shit. We’re in Canada… for fucks sakes. We get clean facilities, we’re being fed good,
right? Free meals. (Violet, Rocky View)
Although our participants were detained in austere high-security institutions that pro-
vided little or no counselling or programming, over 50 per cent of the women we
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interviewed identied what they characterized as ‘advantages’ to being incarcerated,
both for themselves and for other women they knew. Had our original research focus
explicitly been on this topic, we suspect that the percentage would be considerably
higher. We group these contextual ‘advantages’ into several themes: (1) Victimization,
(2) Drugs, (3) Accommodations, (4) Food, (5) Health and (6) Break. Not everyone who
characterized prison as a form of refuge identied with each of these factors, but many
individuals mentioned several. We treat each separately but, in practice, the women
often discussed them as connected and compounding factors. As will become apparent,
any ‘temporary refuge’ these women experienced from incarceration was relative to the
quality of their lives in the community.
Typical of qualitative research, we have selected illustrative quotes to convey our nd-
ings. In cases where participants articulated a view that was unique or only shared by
a small minority in our sample, we indicate it as such. We purposefully foreground the
words of our participants given how rare it is to hear directly from women in remand insti-
tutions. This is also in keeping with the recognition that such narratives play a key role in
shaping the subjectivities of criminally involved individuals (Presser and Sandberg 2015).
Doing so also allowed our participants to convey the subjective realities of their experi-
ences of structural violence more authentically than any summary we could ever produce.
In light of the focus of our analysis, we are inevitably presenting a selective picture
of these women’s lives. While we do not want to produce a sensational ‘pornography
of pain’ (Small 2015), it is necessary to portray these women’s accounts uninchingly.
Doing so helps us humanize our participants and appreciate the complex and contra-
dictory place of prison in their lives. Moreover, as these are the stories that the women
explicitly wanted to tell us and the wider public, it would be a methodological and eth-
ical failure to downplay or sanitize their accounts.
In keeping with the existing research on female inmates (Barrett etal. 2010; Carlson and
Shafer 2010), our participants reported extensive histories of physical and sexual abuse.
Between 74 and 81 per cent of our interviewees indicated that they had experienced
at least one previous incident of sexual or physical victimization, respectively. These
rates are even higher than those identied by a 1990 Canadian Task Force (Barrett etal.
2010), which found that 54 per cent of women incarcerated in federal prisons had his-
tories of sexual assault and 68.2 per cent reported a history of other forms of violent
physical victimization (Barrett etal. 2010).
These patterns of victimization often commenced when our participants were adoles-
cents and continued into adulthood. They were often assaulted by a procession of men
(fathers, stepfathers, uncles, foster brothers, boyfriends, pimps, friends, clients and the
like). However, several also mentioned how other women, notably female caregivers,
had seriously assaulted them or had ignored abuse that they knew was occurring (Jones
etal. 2019). Fiona’s experiences provide a sense of how commonplace such abuse was in
many of these women’s biographies:
[My family members] molested me, and my daughter is [from] incest. And then Iused to get raped
by other people that would come to our house. And then by the time I was sixteen, Iwas sold into
sexual relationships with other people. (Fiona, Crestwood)
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Before Robin and Paige were arrested, they were regularly assaulted by their boyfriends.
Their accounts accentuate the role such men played in abusing many of our participants:
He’s very manipulative and stuff like that. He took my phone and uh, my bank cards and stuff. So,
Iwas tr ying to get a job, and Iwould start, and Iwould get paid, and Iwould get punched in the face,
and Iwould call the cops covered in blood. (Robin, Silverside)
An ex (ex-boyfriend) [] tried killing me, so […]. Ileft him and when Itold him ‘we’re never getting
back together’. He snapped and started strangling me and then chased me with a fucking machete
out of my house. (Paige, Crestwood)
Having been repeatedly victimized throughout their lives, it was often a fear for their
physical safety that helped these women conceive of prison as a temporary refuge as it
offered a minimum level of protection unavailable elsewhere. This situation parallels
ndings by Warren etal. (2004), who similarly reported that their female participants
felt safer in prison compared to their lives on the outside. Amy’s summary of her situ-
ation makes thisclear:
I lost who Iwas. And so being in here like, Idon’t know… jail kind of saved me because if Iwasn’t
in jail right now, Iwould probably still be getting high and still be in that abusive relationship. Like
I’m actually kind of, kind of glad I’m now in here right now. I’m not getting beat up every two days.
(Rocky View)
Several women indicated that fears about their physical safety in the community
prompted them to seek out ways to extend their time in prison, including purpose-
fully postponing their court dates or assaulting staff or other incarcerated women in
order to be charged with new offences. And while violence certainly occurred in these
institutions—often involving assaults between prisoners—a notable subset of our par-
ticipants was far less concerned about that prospect than they were about the patterns
of violence they had temporarily escaped by being incarcerated and which they feared
returning to upon release.
Our participants had extensive histories of misusing serious drugs, notably metham-
phetamine (meth), crack and opioids, with fentanyl use becoming particularly common
during the course of our research. And while it is unremarkable for incarcerated men
and women to use drugs (Crewe 2005; Fazel etal. 2006), our participants regularly used
extreme amounts of potent illicit drugs. We asked interviewees to estimate the number
of women on their units who had substance abuse problems. When we include alcohol
in these estimates, their answers ranged between 80 and 100 per cent. Such numbers
are consistent with Pollack’s (2009) ndings that 66 of her 68 Canadian female pris-
oner participants had drug dependencies. Nicole, who was detained in Silverside, was
one of the many women who estimated that ‘The percentage [of women dependent
on drugs] is probably about ninety percent’. Clara and Lucy reiterate this point: ‘One
hundred per cent [of women have drug dependencies]. Idon’t think I’ve ever met one
person in here who isn’t here due to the fact of their addiction to one thing or another’
(Clara, Crestwood). ‘All of us are addicted to something […]. Idon’t know anyone in
here that doesn’t use drugs on the outside’ (Lucy, Crestwood).
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The crimes our participants committed were regularly in aid of sustaining their drug
use, and several women recounted being intoxicated when arrested. In keeping with
their pattern of frequent meth use, many participants told us that, when they arrived in
remand, they had not slept for several days as they had been on extended ‘meth runs’.
Here, May connects such drug use with her efforts to avoid being sexually assaulted:
Like, sometimes we have to […] use pint [meth] to stay [awake]. You have to do the drugs to stay up,
cuz you can’t fall asleep on the streets. You’ll get raped. You know what Imean? The guys would take
advantage of you or something […]. Yeah, like it’s a bit of a relief coming to jail. (Rocky View)
Although various sorts of illicit drugs were available in the prisons we studied (Bucerius
and Haggerty 2019), a large cross-section of female prisoners explained how prison
presented them with an opportunity to ‘get clean’ (see also Doherty et al. 2014: 573).
What this meant in practice varied as, for some, it referred to a brief period of physical
withdrawal, while others approached it as a conscious process of detoxifying before
they expected to return to their prior pattern of use. Still others saw it as a step towards
extended—hopefully lifelong—sobriety.
To be clear, however, remand was not a place where women could draw upon exten-
sive professional resources to ‘kick’ their drug habit. The fact that many were serving
short sentences worked against enrolling in programming, and such programming was
negligible and mostly non-existent. Instead, for a subset of these women, being incar-
cerated represented more of an aspirational opportunity. They approached prison as
an abrupt break in their regular pattern of drug consumption, which they could use as
a catalyst to address their substancemisuse.
Several of the women who had been repeatedly incarcerated had incorporated this
prison-based ‘drug timeout’ into their overall consumption routine. As Clara put it:
‘This is the only place that Iusually do get clean []. This is when it always ends for
me. Like this is the best-case scenario for ending, is in jail. Like if you can’t say no in
here, you’re never gonna say no out there’ (Crestwood). Lucy reiterates how, for her,
a prison-based respite from using opiates helped position incarceration as a welcome
I mean it’s always good to sober up for a little bit. Idon’t know anybody, especially for anyone using
fentanyl, that could go consistently for let’s say a year, doing the drugs and not get into some sort of
trouble where they’re either hospitalised or incarcerated and are forced to take a break from their
drug. Because otherwise we’d just all be dead. Denitely, it will kill us all off. We were forced to take
a break at some point. So, Iguess that’s really good. (Lucy, Rocky View)
By extension, numerous women characterized prison as having saved their lives as it
interrupted what they understood to be lethal patterns of drug use. Given the amount
and potency of the drugs they often used, we should not dismiss these references to
prison ‘saving my life’ as an embellishment. Sophie (Crestwood), for instance, noted
that if not for having ended up in prison, she would have died: ‘This place saved my life
[] Iwould’ve been a junkie or instead of showing up in shackles and handcuffs, I’d
probably would’ve been in a body bag, you know’. Both Lucy and Emma describe using
drugs to blunt the pain they were experiencing from recent personal traumas. With
little realistic opportunity to access counselling resources on the outside, they believed
that, if they had not been incarcerated, they would have died from an inadvertent or
suicidal overdose:
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I’ve been doing heroin since Iwas twelve […]. Iwas so messed up with my mom passing away [re-
cently] [] like Ioverdosed four times in one week. So, Ireally think that if Ididn’t come to jail when
Idid then Iprobably would’ve overdosed and died [] Iwas doing like 4 grams a day before Icame
in here. (Lucy, Crestwood)
[I was awake for] twenty-eight fucking days [on] crystal meth and heroin. Fucking speedballs [com-
bination of heroin or fentanyl and cocaine] []. Iwas trying to take myself out [kill myself] because
my son passed away. (Emma, Crestwood)
Residing in an institution with many women who had comparable patterns of substan-
tial drug use, Ingrid articulated a unique policy proposal. ACaucasian woman detained
at Rocky View, Ingrid believed she needed to be in prison for two years to confront her
addictions and get clean. When we asked about what changes she would recommend
to the remand system, her only suggestion was that the courts should end the pattern
of women repeatedly going to jail for brief sentences. In her view, being incarcerated
for only a few days or weeks did not allow sufcient time for the women to commit to
sobriety. The prison was one of the only places she had been where positive personal
transformation was possible, both for herself and for women in comparable situations.
She, therefore, wanted the courts to deliver longer sentences as she believed the women
need: ‘a longer sentence. Longer time. Enough time to be clean’. As she later reiterated:
‘Girls need to be here to clean out, to clean up’. It is unknown how many of the women
incarcerated with her would embrace such a prospect. Still, Ingrid’s assessment is a
clear testament to the limited alternatives available on the outside for poor and mar-
ginalized women to address their substance misuse.
The many women who self-identied as having been ‘homeless’, either at the time of
arrest or different points in their lives, faced acute challenges in the community. These
women used shelters, temporarily ‘couch surfed’ at the home of a friend or acquaint-
ance, squatted in garages or empty houses or slept rough on the streets or in the city’s
wooded parks. Such participants regularly characterized their situations in variations
of the following: ‘Like, right now, I’ve lost everything […]. And all of the sudden Igot
evicted […] and Ihad no clothes and no house, right’ (Valerie, Rocky View). This
housing prole is in line with Cook etal.’s (2005) study of women admitted to correc-
tional facilities in the United States, which found that nearly one-third of their 403
participants reported not having had a place to live for at least seven days prior to being
incarcerated. Our research participants, such as Robin, were forced to make dangerous
compromises to have a place tostay:
I actually had to move towns because my ex… being in jails and [he’s] a stalker, aggressive […] [and
a] sociopath […]. Iwent to start datin’ him and kept going back because (pause)… it was him or
homeless. And Iknow how to be in an abusive relationship. Idon’t know how to be homeless. (Robin,
An exacerbating factor was that we conducted our research in a northern climate. In one
research location, the average low January temperature is −16°C (3°F), and it is common
to have week-long periods where the temperate dips to −30°C (−22°F). The local shelters
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were often full, and our participants saw them as dangerous places. When facing such a
situation, some women committed petty crimes so that they would be detained as they
saw prison as their only viable winter ‘housing’ option. Alexandra and Alana explain:
A lot of [other female prisoners] actually get worried and will start to cry like when they have to leave
[…]. Alot of them are worried about getting out to nothing, [and] it’s cold outside []. Especially
now it’s starting to get cold [outside]. (Alexandra, Silverside)
Some people purposely will do crime [], especially this time of year once itstarts getting cold out
[…]. Like there’s so many homeless people, so a lot like purposelywill go in and steal and do things
just so that they have a warm place to stay and they’re given a meal (Alana, Crestwood)
During a week when the temperature outside dropped precipitously, we observed of-
cials at one institution emptying an entire tier of cells on a men’s unit in preparation
for the anticipated seasonal inux of people experiencing homelessness. The women
repeatedly pointed to severe weather as another grim reality that could make prison
seem like a temporaryrefuge.
There’s a couple of girls […] that’s putting off going to court, so she doesn’t haveto be on the street
for the winter […]. Most of these girls just get released, they’re onthe street again […]. And it’s
fucking cold out, so a lot of girls want to stay in, in thewinter. (Jennifer, Silverside)
For a large subset of our participants, private accommodations were unaffordable, state
assistance was unavailable or inaccessible and community-based services were over-
whelmed. In such a context, and facing basic questions about survival, these women
appreciated having anywhere—even a prison cell—as a safe place to sleep. They often
mentioned this situation in conjunction with the prospect of being fed.
Before Igot arrested this last time I[…] wanted to come back to jail, because Ididn’t have a house.
Ididn’t have a shelter. Ididn’t know when Iwas going to eat. Ididn’t know where Iwas going to
shower…. Me and my cellmate were having that conversation this morning. It’s like, ‘Wow, shit, Igot
court coming up on Monday. Well, fuck, Ihope Idon’t get out’. Like, whoever says that? Isaid that.
(Victoria, Crestwood)
The women we interviewed routinely mentioned how the ability to obtain regular and
healthy meals positioned prison as a temporary refuge. That said, it will be clear at this
point that it can be difcult to disentangle one contributing factor from theother.
Our participants often characterized their lives before arrest as singularly focused
on securing the most basic conditions of existence. The practicalities of such a set of
circumstances could mean hustling to nd a place to sleep, engaging in survival sex
to feed an addiction and going to considerable lengths to try to avoid being victim-
ized. The immediacy of such concerns could result in a meagre and unhealthy diet. As
Margaret from Crestwood put it, when life is focused on such essential matters: ‘You
don’t realize that your body is craving [food] that much because it’s so busy out there.
You dont really have time to think about your hunger’. We did not hear of anyone
who explicitly sought to be arrested in order to be fed in prison. Still, the fact that
they received healthy food was routinely mentioned as an appreciated aspect of being
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incarcerated. Olivia, who we met in Crestwood when she was about eight months preg-
nant, provides one of many illustrative examples of this situation:
In here, just having a roof over my head and three meals a day is a bonus right now because I’m preg-
nant. Because Ihave no idea where and how it would’ve panned out, out there [on the street] since
Isometimes don’t eat […]. Ihave no place that Ifeel safe at or can trust anybody to keep my stuff,
because Ilost many things over the last year. Ibasically have nothing out there. I’m alone so, nothing
to go back to either. So, that would be my only benet at the moment Iguess is that Ihave meals but,
and a roof over my head and somewhat secure.
Likewise, May from Rocky View recounted:
May: Yeah, it’s a safe spot for us […]. We feel safe when we come here. We’re not in survival mode.
We get three meals a day []. It’s almost kind of we’re living the dream, but we’re not, but we’re not
you know, we’re not right […]. We laugh a lot here, you know what Imean. It’s honestly… Ifeel like,
the last couple times Icame into jail, Ihad a lot more fun here than Idid out there [outside prison].
Interviewer: You’re kidding.
May: Yeah, just cuz’ you’re safe. You don’t have to worry about drugs. You don’t have to worry about
survival. You have three meals a day.
This constant reference to the benet of obtaining ‘three meals a day’ was again no ex-
aggeration but an indication of these women’s precarious existence in the community.
Exacerbating this situation was their pattern of regular meth use. As meth suppresses a
user’s appetite, many participants indicated that they were underweight and malnour-
ished when they were arrested (see also de Graaf and Kilty 2016: 33). As Margaret put
it, the prison provided her with a space for ‘Uh, rejuvenating (pause), like getting your
mind back, getting your body back. Fueling up, packing on the pounds’. Victoria from
Crestwood provides a comparable sense of how food is a base-level necessity available in
prison that is hard for her and a subset of these women to obtain on thestreet:
I actually don’t mind it in here [prison]. I[…] am homeless otherwise right now, so it’s kinda a safe
place for me to be […]. So, Ind it’s a good place for us [other female prisoners] […]. [In here] we
have a clean bed, shower [and] three square meals a day [and], programs, like getting our educa-
tion. We have ways of getting medical attention. Those are things that otherwise isolated or homeless
people wouldn’t have. As well as safety from many dangers, like with people you don’t getalong with
on the street, or you know you’re vulnerable to those kinds of thing. (Victoria, Crestwood)
Medical Attention
Incarcerated women are known to suffer disproportionately from HIV and other sexu-
ally transmitted infections, chronic medical conditions and mental health illnesses
(Sered and Norton-Hawk 2014). Theoretically, our participants can access Canada’s
healthcare system when they are in the community. In reality, many are ‘hard to ser-
vice’ clients who were often in life situations not conducive to making and keeping
scheduled appointments, attending follow-up meetings, accessing health records or
maintaining recommended treatment routines or prescription schedules.
Several women identied health benets to being incarcerated as the burdens re-
lating to housing, nances and substance abuse were temporarily relieved, allowing
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them to prioritize their physical well-being. The women made long-overdue visits with
physicians, dentists or gynaecologists, and sought treatment for assorted maladies. It
is a situation in keeping with research ndings from the United States, where health
ofcials have identied prison as a valuable site for delivering health services to mar-
ginalized individuals (Freudenberg 2001).
As they started to focus on improving their physical or mental health, however, these
women often also complained that the healthcare in prison was lacking, commenting
on lengthy wait times and limited services (Ahmed etal. 2016). Despite these difcul-
ties, a subset of women, such as Margaret, was nonetheless satised with the available
services, noting that ‘health care is pretty right on the money. Imean if you, especially
in here now, we have a clinic right next door here. So, they’re, they usually answer your
call and uh you’re there next day… Yeah, healthcare is great, healthcare in here is
great’ (Rocky View). For women with prolonged patterns of re-incarceration, the nurses
and doctors in remand had essentially become their de facto healthcare providers.
A lot of these women come in are like eighty years old, and the only reason why they’re alive is be-
cause they come in every couple of months. They (pause) come in; they get free health care. They get
free dental... So, their body gets like healthy, right. Cuz’ they’re not struggling anymore. So, they get
healthy, they get strong, and then they go back out. (Lisa Rocky View)
Finally, our participants identied how prison could provide a temporary refuge be-
cause it offered an acutely needed break from their everyday lives. In some respects,
this notion of a ‘break’ touches upon all of the other situations. Prison, they told us, was
a break from the multiple and often staggering daily challenges associated with lives
overdetermined by poverty, dislocation and violence. This break seemed to be particu-
larly welcome in relation to illicit drugs as these women detailed how being in prison
relieves them of the challenges they faced on the outside and provided them with the
opportunity and impetus to stop or alter their prior patterns of substancemisuse.
Women typically come to remand directly after their arrest in the community. As
a result, we consistently heard how being arrested provided them an opportunity to
sleep. After concluding the intake process, exhausted women regularly collapsed onto
their bunks and sometimes slept for days. Some urgently needed sleep after an ex-
tended period of meth use. Robin from Silverside and Brooklyn from Rocky View ar-
ticulate several of thesepoints:
Robin: Alot of people actually come here on purpose to, to have a break. There’s a lot of people who
it’s just: ‘It’s nice, it’s nice to get away’. Youknow.
Interviewer: What are they getting awayfrom?
Robin: Abusive relationships, homelessness, um (pause) drugs. Even to get a breather and get some
sleep. Alot of homeless people too. Um, to have some food in their stomach kind of give their body arest.
Brooklyn: Yeah, so like I sleep a lot when Irst come in because I’m coming down off drugs and
Ihaven’t slept in a very long time. So, it’s like Isleep for a week or two and then I’m just like ‘ok, now
I’mne ’.
Interviewer: You sleep for a week or two at atime?
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Brooklyn: Yeah! Like you wake up for meals, you go back to bed. You wake up for meals, you go back
to bed. [On the street] like you’re up for like three or four days at a time… Yeah, like you’re fucked
right up. It’s that cycle every day. For three or four days at a time and then you sleep for like, what?
Acouple hours? And then you wake up again, do the three or four days at a time. And then it’s like
how many days have you really not slept? Then you come in here and catch the fuck up… that’s what
fuckin’ meth does to you.
Several women discussed with us how prison also provided them with rare moments
for introspection and planning for their future. Temporarily relieved of the immediate
stresses of securing subsistence-level necessities outside of prison, they could assess, re-
calibrate and contemplate what they wanted from their lives and how they might move
forward. Both Julianna and Annalise give us a sense of this orientation:
[Prison] gives you time to think, you know. [Prison’s] not a great place to come to, but […] [when]
Icome to jail, Ind myself. Icome to reality, you know. I’m sane. I’m normal […]. Ipiece it all out and
then Iset goals for myself then Itry [to] successfully achieve them […]. I’m in jail. I’m ne. I’m happy
where Iam right now and still clearly scared to go out in the outside world. (Julianna, Crestwood)
I think there are a lot of girls that come in here and being in jail’s a benet for them. Because they
get to work on themselves. They get sober, for one. They leave a lot of toxic relationships behind, and
they learn to nd themselves in jail. And when they leave, they are less likely to go back to that toxic
relationship and using drugs again. You know, like, Ithink it’s a benet for coming into (pause), for
jail for some girls. Ireally do. It has benetted me when Icame in, sober off dope for three years.
(Annalise, Silverside)
Several participants mentioned that part of this planning process involved an oppor-
tunity to reconnect with family members. Among the considerable subset of women
who had lost custody of their children, several also occasionally discussed how prison
provided them with a chance to start the personal, organizational and legal processes
required to reconnect with their children. The structural violence experienced by these
women could obviously make achieving these goals profoundly difcult and sometimes
impossible. Nonetheless, many were optimistic and took incarceration as an occasion
to recalibrate, reect and plan for the future.
Prison, Marginalization and Social Welfare: Discussion and Conclusion
Other researchers have identied situations where individuals might derive some
‘advantage’ from being incarcerated. These authors often focus on developing and
evaluating correctional programming designed to foster various kinds of recovery or
desistance from offending and risk-taking (see e.g. Gendreau et al. 1996; Heseltine
etal. 2011; Mpofu etal. 2018; Papalia etal. 2019). Such interventions include thera-
peutic approaches focused on mitigating harms and efforts to enable or cultivate
particular capabilities and capacities. Others, such as Armstrong and Maruna (2016),
have encouraged us to contemplate how prisons might function as social justice insti-
tutions that contribute to the social and economic situation of neighbourhoods and
perhaps play an integral role in helping people who are released from prison reinte-
grate into society.
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For the women in our study, however, such dynamics were not in evidence. Women
on remand have access to little or no programming. As such, there is no opportunity for
them to benet from therapeutic or clinical interventions that might foster desistance
or recovery. Rather than being supported in the community, these women tend to cycle
in and out of prison, with each bout of incarceration increasing the likelihood of subse-
quent prison stays and further marginalization (Jacobs 2016; Trav is etal. 2 014). As a re-
sult, in our research setting, any sense that prison might be (conditionally) ‘benecial
points to something starker and more unsettling. Many of the women felt that the mere
act of being incarcerated improved their life situation because their lives in the com-
munity were particularly dangerous or tumultuous due to the compounding effects of
such things as poverty, marginalization and substancemisuse.
Methodologically speaking, readers might wonder if these women were simply telling
‘good news’ stories about prison because they saw the researchers as an extension of the
carceral regime. While such interaction effects are always possible, we have reason to
doubt that they operated at a meaningful level in our research on this topic. Our par-
ticipants tended to spontaneously suggest that prison could be a ‘refuge’ when talking
about other matters, which seems to speak to the veracity of their comments. We also
repeatedly stressed that interviews were anonymous and condential and that we were
in no way afliated with the correctional system. As such, they were aware that our dis-
cussions would have no immediate bearing on their sentence or living conditions.
Consequently, participants often did tell us about many aspects of prison that they
nd inefcient, unjust, or illegal, although we have not foregrounded those in this
article. That our participants were candid about such concerns and criticisms suggests
that their observations about situations where prison could be a ‘refuge’ were not part
of a strategy of presenting exclusively positive accounts. The women were comfortable
detailing when and how prison could be painful, but that was only part of the story they
had totell.
For a considerable portion of the women in our study, it is, therefore, clear that
Wacquant’s assertion that ‘… punitive containment offers relief not to the poor but from
the poor’ is too sharply drawn. His is an image of a neoliberal state divided between a
vigorous ‘right hand’ and an enfeebled ‘left hand’. The right hand is focused on eco-
nomic regulation and backed up by an increasingly coercive criminal justice apparatus,
where the ‘left hand’ aims to provide social services, such as healthcare and housing.
Such a characterization does not easily map onto these women’s experiences. Instead,
we found evidence of a more ambidextrous state. These prisons punish women and,
in doing so, also exacerbate their marginalization. But the prisons also provide poor,
racialized and vulnerable women some of the only opportunities available to them to
escape dangers or challenges they face in the community and to access basic social
welfare provisions. In prison, the left hand of the state attends to our participants’ im-
mediate fundamental needs for safe housing, food or medical care. It does not, however,
establish a continuation of care that would connect them to services on the outside to
help them break the continuous ‘revolving door’ cycle of incarceration. As a result, our
participants nd themselves in a constant rotation between marginalized lives in the
community and periods of imprisonment many perceive as a temporary refuge from
the most dangerous or unstable aspects of thoselives.
Canada is known internationally as a social welfare state (Ringen 2017) whose citizens
have access to a series of benets, most famously socialized healthcare, but also forms
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of parental leave, unemployment insurance, childcare, pension and the like (Mahon
and Beland 2014). Such a depiction, however, often benets from a comparison with
the United States rather than with Europe’s more advanced social welfare states. The
promotional picture also tends to neglect the condition of Canada’s most marginalized
and disadvantaged groups who cannot always connect with the social welfare system
in a meaningful way. For some, such as Canada’s Indigenous population, this may be
related to distrust in the state based on past personal experience and a history of colon-
ization (Green et al. 2016; Fortin etal. 2017).
Our data clearly points to glaring gaps in Canada’s social welfare system, with prison
becoming a place where our participants form some tangible connections to services
that otherwise seem difcult for them to access or which are entirely out of reach. Rather
than being a story about prisons being ‘good’ or ‘soft’, these women’s understandings
of the place of prison in their lives are a stark accounting of the limitations and failures
of Canada’s often-celebrated social welfare system. For them, prison is many things sim-
ultaneously, including space where they can be comparatively safe and access services
that many people take for granted. It gives them a chance to see a physician, to have an
abscessed tooth pulled and to know that they will have a bed to sleep in and food to eat.
There is nothing lavish or particularly empowering about such ‘amenities’. As such, it
might be tempting to dismiss such meagre ‘virtues’ as inconsequential and not worth
noting, but the women themselves certainly do not share that assessment.
The picture our participants present of the place of prison in their lives is a de-
parture from the prevailing academic portrayal of women’s prisons as exclusively dys-
functional institutions that necessarily traumatize women or as spaces where inmates
exercise agency in the face of multiple constraints (Fili 2013). Our analysis advances
a more prosaic third image of prison as a temporary refuge, a place where a subset of
women subjected to systematic patterns of structural violence work to marshal the few
resources available to them to make the best of adverse life situations. For some, this
can mean that prison offers desirable—and occasionally life-saving—opportunities
that are realistically unavailable to them elsewhere. These three dynamics of trauma,
resistance and refuge can exist simultaneously in the same prison and can be apparent
in the current situation of a singleinmate.
Before anyone is tempted to dismiss these women’s views as a form of false conscious-
ness that legitimizes an oppressive carceral regime or partition their stories off for de-
construction by forms of narrative analysis ‘uninterested in what the world and agents
in it are really like’ (Presser 2016: 139), we owe it to our participants to respect the
truth of their accounts. In part, that is because what they are saying appears to t
with established understandings, although those views are not often publicized. As we
have presented versions of these ndings to different audiences, one consistent reac-
tion from experienced prison researchers is that they are aware of this situation, but it
is not something academics often publicly acknowledge. As one reviewer of this paper
observed, our depiction of prison as refuge would be ‘familiar to all qualitative prisons
researchers but is notably lacking in the literature’. One can only speculate as to why
this might be the case. We suspect that the lack of attention to this reality is due to how
these ndings challenge a preferred depiction of womens prisons and risk being taken
up by commentators eager to denounce prison as ‘soft’. This ‘prison as refuge’ theme
was so prominent in our data, however, that it would have been impossible to downplay
or discount. Not drawing back from this reality is also in keeping with David Garland’s
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admonition that the moment has arrived for punishment scholars to ‘open up ques-
tions that contradict the conventional wisdom and press contradictory viewpoints,
even when they seem politically unpopular’ (Garland 2000: 18).6 While we cannot con-
trol the politically motivated use of our ndings, it would take a thoroughly dishonest
reading of our analysis to suggest that these women ‘have it easy’.
The political implications here are not encouraging for those eager for a quick-x
policy solution. While there is an urgent need to reform and humanize the correc-
tional system, these women’s accounts point to the need for nothing less than whole-
sale political and social reform designed to empower disadvantaged populations, most
notably women at the risk of predation and intersecting and compounding forms of
While we have focused only on the situation of women in this paper, it is also possible
that a subset of men might also experience prisons in a similar way. Our larger data set
speaks to that fact, and future researcher is needed to assess if and how these ndings
hold in other research contexts and with different incarcerated populations.
This work is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada [430-2018-00308] and the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism,
Security and Society [114998].
We would like to thank the women who shared their time and stories with us and the in-
stitutions that opened their doors for us. Thanks also to those individuals who provided
helpful comments on drafts of this article, particularly the many team members of the
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... A first group we interviewed framed this aspect of their incarceration as beneficial. Their consumption in the community was so high risk that they saw their arrest and the attendant break in their drug habit as having saved their lives (Bucerius, Haggerty, and Dunford 2021;Schneider 2023). Lucy gives a sense of the situations facing such individuals: "I've been doing heroin since I was twelve. . . . ...
... Such research is particularly pressing in a political and institutional context in which ethics protocols , escalating professorial workloads, and risk-averse correctional officials make it more challenging to conduct ethnographic research in prison (Simon 2000;Wacquant 2002). In Canada, the result has been a conspicuous gap in our understanding, as Canadian scholars have produced surprisingly few in-prison ethnographies (but see Comack [1996] and more recently Tetrault, Bucerius, and Haggerty [2019], Bucerius, Haggerty, and Dunford [2021], , ). ...
... Our focus here is on men who may experience deteriorated well-being over time given the scope of our study, but we did see men whose well-being improved over time, both inside and out of solitary confinement. The incarceration experience can be an opportunity for people to transform their lives for the better (Wright, 2020), and this reality points to the importance of acknowledging that isolation-whether through incarceration in general or solitary confinement specifically-can be from people or settings that were particularly damaging to someone's physical and mental well-being (Bucerius et al., 2021). ...
... Two recent articles have addressed the issue of people being 'better off' in jail (Bucerius et al., 2021;Schneider, 2023). Removed from the systems of constraint and employment legislation outside of prison, there is effectively an extra judicial or self regulating environment where national minimum wage legislation are not deemed relevant. ...
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Until now, wages in prison and the meanings associated with them have been relatively overlooked within penology. This study analyses findings from a research project conducted between 2019 and 2021 that explores multiple meanings attached to prisoner wages. Through the analysis of 29 semi-structured interviews were conducted with a cohort of purposely selected people in custody across three prisons in Scotland, this study provides unique and rich insights into prison wages. Themes analysed include comments relating to wage rates and what emerges as a particularly tenuous link between wages within and outside prison. Receiving a weekly wage close to the hourly UK minimum wage was seen as an integral part of the life in prison and compounded feelings of detachment to life outside of prison. Our findings also indicate that sentiments associated with prison wages are significantly shaped by pre-prison experience of wages. The impact of imprisonment in relation to prison wages are stratified by income, given the differences in experience related to pre-prison employment and wage levels. Our paper also situates prison wages within a wider context through engaging with Foucault's notion of 'artifice' which served to develop an understanding of the logic behind the low levels of remuneration for prison work. Our study has relevance in all prison jurisdictions where people in custody receive wages significantly less than local minimum wage legislation or sectoral tariffs would normally dictate.
... It appears that, at least for some people, incarceration can entail a turning point in their drug use. Qualitative research inquiring into the experiences of drug-involved prisoners supports this notion, in that incarceration may provide an enforced respite from their lives in the community characterised by addiction ( Douglas, Plugge, & Fitzpatrick, 2009 ) and afford the opportunity to confront their drug use ( Bucerius, Haggerty, & Dunford, 2021 ). In a vulnerable population that is typically hard to reach by community services, access to care and treatment during imprisonment may further promote the discontinuation of in-prison drug use. ...
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Background: Many people who enter prison have recently used drugs in the community, a substantial portion of whom will continue to do so while incarcerated. To date, little is known about what factors may contribute to the continuation of drug use during imprisonment. Methods: Self-reported data were collected from a random sample of 1326 adults (123 women) incarcerated across 15 prisons in Belgium. Multivariate regression was used to investigate associations between in-prison drug use and sociodemographic background, criminological profile, drug-related history, and mental health among participants who reported pre-prison drug use. Results: Of all 1326 participants, 719 (54%) used drugs in the 12 months prior to their incarceration and 462 (35%) did so while in prison. There was a strong association between drug use before and during imprisonment (OR = 6.77, 95% CI 5.16–8.89). Of those who recently used drugs in the community, half (52%) continued to do so while incarcerated. Factors independently associated with continuation (versus cessation) were young age, treatment history, polydrug use, and poor mental health. In a secondary analysis, initiation of drug use while in prison was further related to incarceration history and low education. Conclusion: Persistence of drug use following prison entry is common. People who continue to use drugs inside prison can be differentiated from those who discontinue in terms of drug-related history and mental health. Routine screening for drug use and psychiatric morbidity on admission to prison would allow for identifying unmet needs and initiating appropriate treatment.
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People in prison bear a higher burden of psychiatric morbidity compared with the general population. This study examined the extent to which individual and environmental factors contribute to poor mental health during imprisonment. Participants comprised 1296 randomly selected adults in 15 Belgian prisons. Psychological distress was more common in women than men and peaked during the early stages of imprisonment. In addition to having a history of mental disorder, low levels of perceived autonomy, safety, and social support were independently associated with experiencing distress. These findings underscore the importance of considering the prison environment in policies to improve the mental health of incarcerated individuals.
Sur la base d’une recherche empirique, le présent article vise à documenter le traitement des femmes incarcérées dans les prisons belges. Des observations et des entretiens ont été menés avec des femmes détenues dans 7 établissements pénitentiaires du pays, ainsi qu’avec des membres du personnel tant de services internes qu’externes. Les auteures analysent d’abord les conséquences pour les femmes de leur statut de minorité en détention, combiné au principe d’incarcération séparée selon les sexes. Ensuite, elles montrent comment les représentations genrées à l’œuvre dans les pratiques carcérales confèrent aux femmes un statut inférieur et dévalorisé au sein d’une institution pensée par et pour les hommes.
Over the last several decades, research has demonstrated the adverse impact incarceration has on sustaining and strengthening familial bonds. Physical and communication barriers are often noted as lead sources of strain in relationships between incarcerated individuals and their loved ones. Studies have shown that the financial burden of prison can also have deleterious impacts on the family reintegration process upon release, particularly for minoritized populations. The current study adds to the discussion on collateral consequences of the carceral state by introducing temporal debt; a novel concept similar to financial debt in that it results from oppressive policies and builds over generations. Findings detail how the carceral state impacts fathers’ regard for temporal provision and enters Black men into a cycle of temporal poverty. The results encourage readers to consider novel means of addressing harm and violence to decrease the perpetuation of familial harm committed by the criminal legal system beyond reformist efforts that often aim to ease parenting from prison.
In contrast with studies examining the incarceration experience in civil prisons, there is a lack of literature and theory focusing on the military prison incarceration experience. The present retrospective qualitative study explored the experience of 27 Ethiopian-Israelis, an overrepresented population in Israeli military prison, incarcerated during their military service due to desertion offenses. Two main themes developed from the interviews: (a) the military prison as a tool to achieve personal goals and (b) Self-perception as victims of the system. Findings suggest that military prison incarceration may be a different experience to that of civilian incarceration, at times lacking the negative psychological described in literature on civil incarceration. On a theoretical level, results suggest that the incarceration experience may not be universal but, rather, dependent on the social and cultural context and meaning of the incarceration for the individual involved.
Prisons are rarely conceptualized as promoting “positivity” in the lives of people who are incarcerated (PWAI) or correctional workers (CWs). Analyzing data from 908 open-ended survey responses of Canadian provincial and territorial correctional employees, we present nuances to the more negative constructions of carceral environments; namely, that many CWs work to better the lives of marginalized and vulnerable criminalized people. CWs are able to reflect on how their occupation facilitates personal growth and the pursuit of social and transformative justice. We discuss how their internal commitments toward rehabilitating and making a difference must be reinforced through institutional and organizational changes.
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While prison needle exchange programs, or prison needle and syringe programs, have existed in different parts of the world since the 1990s, little is known about how currently incarcerated people perceive them-particularly in Canada, where such programs have only recently been implemented. This study explores incarcerated women's perceptions of a recently implemented prison needle exchange program using in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews with 56 federally incarcerated women in Western Canada. In particular, we explore the barriers that women perceive in accessing the prison needle exchange program. These perceived barriers contributed to our participants' negative views of the prison needle exchange program as well as their overwhelming lack of support for its implementation. Our participants felt that the prison needle exchange program acts as an obstacle to sobriety and could increase different types of harm-including encouraging injection drug use and contributing to overdoses-within the prison. Participants also identified other barriers to using the prison needle exchange program, including a perceived lack of confidentiality/anonymity for users of the program and that the prison needle exchange program itself is structurally incompatible with the rules and operations of a prison system that continues to criminalize drugs. Using an implementation science framework, we argue that this situation accentuates the need for significant consultations with incarcerated people about the operation of such programs, and for funds to support other programs that target participant identified root causes of substance misuse, such as programs that address past trauma and victimization. At the same time, we caution that some barriers may be inherent in how prisons are structured.
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The “pains of imprisonment” is one of the most prominent concepts in the social study of incarceration. First introduced by Gresham Sykes in 1958, it has subsequently been taken up by generations of authors and applied to an increasingly diverse range of contexts, populations, and activities. This article details how the “pains of imprisonment” concept has evolved and expanded. It is based on an analysis of 50 academic works (books, articles, and chapters) that used some variation of the “pains of…” formulation. We identified four main trajectories in the literature that have contributed to this expansion, which we document in the first section through the use of illustrative examples. This is followed by a more critical series of reflections that seek to appreciate some of the organizational and political factors that might account for the appeal of this concept. Finally, we conclude by questioning whether the “pains” framing might paradoxically be a victim of its own success, with its analytical and political purchase potentially blunted through overuse and overextension.
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Comparatively little is known about how Canadian prisoners experience and make sense of their lives inside Canadian correctional facilities. Based on 39 qualitative in-depth interviews conducted with remanded women in a Western Canadian remand prison as part of the University of Alberta Prison Project (UAPP), this article serves to describe the five main issues that women in our sample highlighted about their incarceration and how those were shaped by their own backgrounds and life histories: 1) Victimization; 2) Distrust of the police, 3) Parenting while incarcerated; 4) Addictions and mental health; 5) Contextual benefits of prison. The implications of this work for criminal justice practitioners, policymakers, and scholars are discussed. Our findings serve to detail the commonalities between the women in an effort to provide criminal justice and social service actors with contextual background information about their clients. They show that the women lack access to the myriad social and institutional supports that so many people take for granted, including protection from physical and sexual abuse, access to stable housing, addiction support, medical and dental treatment, mental health supports, trauma counselling, and the like.
Most writing on sociological method has been concerned with how accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested. In The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss address the equally Important enterprise of how the discovery of theory from data-systematically obtained and analyzed in social research-can be furthered. The discovery of theory from data-grounded theory-is a major task confronting sociology, for such a theory fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and laymen alike. Most important, it provides relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations, and applications. In Part I of the book, "Generation Theory by Comparative Analysis," the authors present a strategy whereby sociologists can facilitate the discovery of grounded theory, both substantive and formal. This strategy involves the systematic choice and study of several comparison groups. In Part II, The Flexible Use of Data," the generation of theory from qualitative, especially documentary, and quantitative data Is considered. In Part III, "Implications of Grounded Theory," Glaser and Strauss examine the credibility of grounded theory. The Discovery of Grounded Theory is directed toward improving social scientists' capacity for generating theory that will be relevant to their research. While aimed primarily at sociologists, it will be useful to anyone Interested In studying social phenomena-political, educational, economic, industrial- especially If their studies are based on qualitative data. © 1999 by Barney G. Glaser and Frances Strauss. All rights reserved.
This book argues that unique rural cultural dynamics shape women’s experiences of incarceration and release from prison in the remote, predominantly white communities that many Americans still think of as “the Western frontier.” Together, these dynamics comprise an architecture of gendered violence , a theoretical lens applicable to women’s experiences of prison throughout the United States in its focus on how the synchronous operations of addiction and compromised mental health, poverty, fraught relationships, and felony-related discrimination undergird women’s lives. The architecture of gendered violence that comprises the primary pathway to incarceration among the Wyoming women in this study reflects the way the suite of concerns facing currently and formerly incarcerated women throughout the United States manifests in a remote rural context far from the coastal metropolises that dominate the production of criminal justice discourse and scholarship.
Background and aims: Fentanyl and derivatives are lethal components of North America's opioid crisis. Prisons often house a disproportionate number of illicit opiate users. To date, no on-the-ground empirical research exists on how opioids are altering the health and risk profile of prisons. The objectives of this study were to examine (1) how fentanyl and its analogues have shaped the prison experience for prisoners; and (2) how these opioids have altered the occupation of correctional officers (CO's). Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 587 adult prisoners and 131 COs across four provincial prisons in Western Canada. Prisoners were recruited on their housing units and randomly selected. COs were recruited through non-probability, theoretical sampling. We employed a generalized prompt guide and asked a range of questions pertaining to how the presence of fentanyl and its analogues have changed the prison experience for prisoners and have impacted the work routine of COs. Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim, thematically coded and analyzed using Nvivo 11. Results: For prisoners, we identified four main results: (1) the presence of fentanyl leads to an increased number of overdoses; (2) prisons are nonetheless perceived as a comparatively safe place to use drugs; (3) fentanyl is often mixed into other drugs, making it hard for drug users to avoid fentanyl; and (4) prisoners fear fentanyl is being weaponized. For officers, we identified: (1) increased fears about inadvertent personal exposure or widespread institutional opioid contamination; (2) fear of targeted poisonings; (3) changing attitudes towards opioid-using prisoners; and (4) a declining commitment to correctional careers. Conclusion: The presence of fentanyl in prisons has significantly influenced how prisoners experience prison and relate to each other and how COs perceive their job. COs now identify fentanyl as the greatest risk to their safety in prisons.
This meta‐analysis examined whether psychological treatments with adult violent offenders in correctional and forensic mental health settings are effective in preventing community recidivism and institutional (hospital/prison) misconduct. A total of 27 controlled studies containing 7,062 violent offenders were obtained via a comprehensive search strategy that yielded more than 13,000 records. Overall, treatments with violent offenders significantly reduced violent and general/nonviolent recidivism. The average effect for violent and general/nonviolent institutional misconduct did not attain statistical significance. Moderator analyses indicated numerous trends; however, most effects were nonsignificant following alpha‐level corrections. Findings regarding the impact of psychological treatments are promising and suggest that multimodal treatments are associated with the strongest treatment effects. However, the extant evidence base is limited by a small number of well‐controlled outcome studies and inconsistent/incomplete reporting of the evaluations. More high‐quality research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of violent offender treatment on outcomes and mechanisms of action, and to determine which treatment components are effective, in what combination, and for which offenders.