chapter  24
12 Pages

Concluding comments on the social world of prison staff

ByBen Crewe

This book has covered a great deal of terrain, and some summary comments and suggestions for further research are merited. One theme that features in a number of chapters in this volume is that of discretion and power. Sykes (1958) noted in his landmark study that, despite the huge power differential between staff and prisoners, the practical realities of prison life were such that the authority of officers was in fact highly deficient and the maintenance of institutional order was reliant on compromise or ‘accommodation’. Conducting research forty years later, Liebling (2000) reiterated the centrality of discretion to officer work and argued that staff-prisoner relations could not be understood without an appreciation of how it was applied by front-line staff. Instead of constantly resorting to the rule book, officers routinely exercised localised judgment, based on the personal relationships that they built with prisoners, to reproduce everyday order and maintain the smooth flow of the regime.