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Recapturing freedom: Issues relating to the release of long-term prisoners into the community

Goulding, Dorothy (2002) Recapturing freedom: Issues relating to the release of long-term prisoners into the community. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study is about the prison experience. The research relates the stories of several long-term prisoners from the days leading up to their release from prison and through their struggles to cope with life on the outside. A few make it, but most do not. These men and women are returned to prison for one reason or another.

In light of this 'failure' factor, the study has several elements. Firstly, to investigate the impact of imprisonment on individual prisoners and the wider community. Secondly, to afford prisoners an authoritative place from which to relate their experiences of prison in their own words. Thirdly, to provide an analysis of the construction of the self as prisoner with a particular focus on penal policy and practice.

Qualitative methodology is used throughout the study and the micro-sociological component reflects the focus on the participants’ own experiences through the use of phenomenological, ethnomethodological and symbolic interactionist perspectives. In-depth interviews with participants are the main source of information for the study.

Using a combination of the prisoners’ narratives and academic accounts, the thesis explores the notion of institutionalisation and the ways in which prisons strip individuals of their prior social identity in order to mould them into controllable ‘inmates’. In doing this, the study illustrates imprisonment in terms of loss of rights, and restriction of space and choice. In addition, the research looks at patterns of surveillance and control in prisons, the role of prison staff, the duality of prison culture, and prisoner resistance to institutionalisation.

Violence and brutalisation in prisons are a central focus of the research. In this respect, the study addresses the gendered nature of violence in prisons, the prevalence of sexual violence, and the participants’ accounts of violent incidents and their claims of officially sanctioned violence against themselves and other prisoners.

The title of the thesis, Recapturing Freedom, alludes to the participants’ experiences of ‘freedom' out in the wider community. Since most of the participants were returned to prison for one reason or another, the reader can conclude that freedom, for these men and women, was not easily recaptured. Instead, many of the prisoners interviewed for the study were recaptured by the system. The study, then, reflects on the participants’ descriptions of life outside of prison, however brief the experience may have been.

The thesis concludes with the participants’ recommendations for some positive changes that might help alleviate problems associated with the difficult transition from prison life to community living. Finally, it explores the need for fundamental philosophical change to the prevailing retributive prison system towards the establishment of a more restorative and transformative system.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia
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