Working lives of prison managers: exploring agency and structure in the late modern prison
Bennett, Jamie Stewart
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This study explores the contemporary working lives of prison managers. It attempts to understand the ways in which globalised changes in management practices have intersected with localised practices and occupational cultures. Through an ethnographic study of the lived experience of the practitioners of prison management, the research explores the ways in which the operation of managerialism in a prison environment creates a series of tensions, pressures and expectations on senior managers, and the ways in which these are experienced, understood and negotiated. This study is therefore concerned with the relationships between global and local, and between agency and structure that are characteristic of late modernity. The constraining and enabling features of contemporary prison management are considered in light of Giddens’s account of ‘the duality of structure’. Relevant work on transformation of working lives by Sennett and others are also considered in order to situate this discussion within the world of work more generally. The original research involved ethnographic field work in two medium security prisons in England over a twelve month period, with data generated from observations, interviews and documentary sources. Four aspects of prison management are used in order to address the central issues. The first is a consideration of performance monitoring mechanisms such as targets, audits and inspections; how these are understood, operated, and influenced by those using them and also how they reshape and direct the approach and thinking of managers. The second is a discussion of aspects of agency such as values, discretion, resistance and the use of power; in what ways these are idiosyncratic and individual and how far they are patterned across the organisation and shaped by wider factors. The third issue is a consideration of how people become prison managers and how they approach and understand key issues that face them in managing individual staff, teams and prisoners. The final area considers the ‘hidden injuries’ of contemporary management practice, including how this is experienced by women, members of minority ethnic groups and others who experience themselves as having been marginalised. The study concludes by describing the confluence of global and local, and agency and structure that shape what is described as ‘prison managerialism’. It also describes some of the effects of this and discusses alternatives.