The prisoner’s dilemma: How male prisoners experience and respond to penal threat while incarcerated – 2018-02

Drawing on interview data with 56 former prisoners in Canada, we examine how male prisoners understand, experience, and respond to threat while incarcerated. We show that prisoners face a variety of different and often competing threats, resulting from prisoner interactions (e.g. threat of physical violence for being a “snitch”) on the one side, and institutional powers and procedures on the other side (e.g. threat of delayed release from prison). These threats are competing insofar as countering a prisoner threat opens the door to threat on the institutional level (i.e. administrative uncertainties) and vice versa. As a consequence, we show how feeling threatened for prisoners becomes paramount and in many cases unavoidable as the different threats in prison are difficult, if not impossible, to handle in unison. However, in an effort to stay physically safe and work toward their release, prisoners must find viable strategies to navigate different prison environments, particularly as they move between prisons of differing security classifications. We draw on Giddens’ notion of “ontological insecurity” to draw attention to prisoners’ feelings of perpetual vulnerability and insecurity. In addition, we build on Luhmann’s conceptualization of risk and danger to explain how male prisoners experience and respond to moments of “danger” when they are faced with competing threats and must decide how to best navigate them.

Katharina H Maier, Rosemary Ricciardelli
Punishment & Society, February 13, 2018