Constructing family in the context of imprisonment: a study of prisoners and their families in Scotland
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This thesis explores what it is like for families when a person is sentenced to a period of imprisonment in Scotland. Drawing on interviews with men and women in custody, family members in the community and relevant professionals this thesis will argue that the family relationships affected by imprisonment are many and varied: just as in wider society there is no one model of “prisoners’ families”. Despite the restriction of liberty inherent to a prison sentence, these families find creative ways to maintain relationships through active, embodied ‘displays’ and ‘practices’ such as physical affection, revisiting shared memories and traditions and the sharing of food, routines, family time and other ‘home comforts’. It is these displays that define and characterise family relations, rather than strict categories of blood or marriage. Yet imprisonment imposes a number of barriers to reciprocal family relationships and maintaining these active displays takes considerable effort on the part of the family outside. This division of emotional and practical labour is highly gendered, and as a result supporting a family member in custody can serve to entrench both gendered caring roles and the social marginality already experienced by participants. Finally, this thesis will argue that the complexity of family life is often not fully reflected in criminal justice policy or practice, yet the ways in which families are seen and responded to have implications for the overall legitimacy of the system. Together, these claims should cause us to reflect critically on the wider costs of imprisonment.