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Williams, A.H. (1994). Notes on the interaction between prison staff and prisoners. Free Associations, 4(4):519-526.

(1994). Free Associations, 4(4):519-526

Social Issues

Notes on the interaction between prison staff and prisoners

Arthur Hyatt Williams

Recently there has been a good deal of adverse publicity about the conditions in several of our penal establishments.1 The most adverse criticism has concerned the transactions alleged to have taken and to be taking place in those institutions in which are detained persons who have a tendency to resort to violence and destructive damaging behaviour. I do not intend to write about the physical conditions, their relative comfort or alleged squalor, but rather to look at the interpersonal relationships which develop between staff members and detainees, whether these latter are called prisoners or patients. This is not to disregard the network of relationships which develop between staff members or between the detainees themselves.

Technical staff — medical officers, psychiatrists, welfare workers, psychologists, and others — have but a brief contact with individual prisoners; this contact is usually firmly structured, and has a time and space boundary. This contrasts markedly with the contact between prison officers and prisoners, which is for longer periods of time, occurs more often, and takes place in a less structured and bounded way. Also, there is probably more direct disciplinary authority in the transactions themselves: ‘Move along.’ ‘Don't be all day.’ ‘Silence.’ ‘Stop that.’

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