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Methods

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)

Abstract

This chapter describes the origins of the study, its research design, the process of accessing multiple research sites, the study’s ethical practices and the primary research methods: in-depth interviews and a dedicated survey organised primarily around an exploration of the problems of long-term imprisonment. The chapter also discusses the process of undertaking team research and some of the methodological and practical challenges of conducting the research.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_2
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Notes

  1. 1.

    In England and Wales, male prisoners are classified according to four security categories. Category A prisoners are those that would pose the most threat to the public, the police or national security should they escape. Category B prisoners do not need to be held in the highest-security conditions but are kept in conditions that make the potential for escape very difficult. Category C prisoners are those deemed not to be trusted in open conditions but unlikely to make a determined escape attempt. Category D prisoners can be trusted in open conditions. Adult prisons for men are high-security (holding prisoners who are Category A or B), Category B, C or D (also known as ‘open prisons’). Female prisoners are categorised differently, being deemed Category A or ‘Restricted status’ (if their escape would present a serious risk to the public) or as being suitable either for closed or open conditions.

  2. 2.

    None of our participants self-identified as gender non-binary.

  3. 3.

    This situation was unsatisfactory, but was non-negotiable. In four interviews, therefore, a prison officer sat in the corner of the large interview room, intervening only when interviewees turned to him for confirmation or reassurance. Clearly, this arrangement compromised normal promises of anonymity and confidentiality, but did so without interviewees being in any way misled about these terms.

  4. 4.

    Interviewing in such circumstances was problematic. It was difficult to build rapport, not least because legal visits areas—where prisoners meet their solicitors to discuss their cases—carry such different meanings from the kinds of non-descript office spaces on wings in which we normally conducted interviews. One prisoner made explicit that her reason for declining to be interviewed was her emotional association with this particular space. Furthermore, because legal visits are located ‘outside’ the main prison building, we were unable to contact prisoners following interviews to check properly on their well-being. In one instance, an interviewee did not return for the second part of her interview, following the lunch break. The interviewer (SH) asked an officer to convey to the prisoner her regret and to check that she was not unduly upset by the research encounter, but this kind of arms-length communication felt extremely inadequate. As a result, to establish whether the interview had caused her any distress, SH sent a letter to the prisoner—the most efficient means by which to contact her. The interviewee responded, explaining that she had found the interview ‘difficult’. This experience generated a great deal of worry on our part, and we agreed, as a team, that we would decline any subsequent request to conduct interviews in such spaces even if this meant foregoing interviews entirely.

  5. 5.

    This is despite some difficulties in claiming direct comparability, with regard to such matters as mean age at the time of being sentenced (ranging from 21 in our study to over 28 in Richards [1978]), and ethnic composition of the sample (over 50% White in our study, compared to 29% White in Flanagan [1980]).

  6. 6.

    The tariff was computed by calculating the difference between the sentence date and the tariff expiry date, so that the tariff data may show figures slightly lower than actual tariff lengths, due to remand time not being accounted for in the data.

  7. 7.

    The symbol ‘[…]’ indicates where we have removed text that was present in the transcript.

  8. 8.

    Interviews with female prisoners were conducted only by SH and SW.

  9. 9.

    There was a significant association between sentence stage and: tariff length (defined as under 20 years or 20 years and over—χ2(4) = 53.29, p < 0.001); guilt (χ2(4) = 36.74, p < 0.001); and ethnicity (χ2(4) = 12.55, p < 0.05).

  10. 10.

    An application for funding to extend the study, in order to interview people who met our criteria but were within secure hospitals, as well as prisoners given very long life sentences when older, was unsuccessful.

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Crewe, B., Hulley, S., Wright, S. (2020). Methods. In: Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood. Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-56601-0_2

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