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The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (7th edn)

Alison Liebling, Shadd Maruna, and Lesley McAra
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date: 13 April 2024

p. 83138. Reconfiguring and reimagining penal powerlocked

p. 83138. Reconfiguring and reimagining penal powerlocked

  • Ben Crewe
  •  and Alison Liebling


This chapter examines changing forms and consequences of power in contemporary prisons in England and Wales. It begins by discussing the ways in which power has been treated within the penological literature, critiquing the tendency among some scholars to focus on its most coercive forms. It goes on to consider the connections between prisoner experiences and the use of authority by prison staff, detailing the different textures that result according to the specific ways that staff exercise their power. The chapter then considers the implications of these differences with regard to matters such as ‘respect’ in prison, the centrality of staff professionalism to prison life, the self-legitimacy of prison officers, and ‘good’ uses of penal power. After detailing recent transitions in the prison system in England and Wales, the chapter explores the consequences of these changes in relation to prisoner behavior, power-sharing between staff and prisoners, and other staff practices. It concludes by identifying the connections between different modes of penal authority, order and legitimacy.

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