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Prisons Research Centre


ESRC funded Transforming Social Science - Locating trust in a climate of fear: religion, moral status, prisoner leadership, and risk in maximum security prisons

Religious identity is playing an increasingly prominent role in maximum security prisons in the social and emotional lives of prisoners and in the management of risk. Changing prison demographics and anxieties that under certain conditions prisons may become incubators for terrorist ideology, have fuelled concerns over the role and nature of religious ideology and practice in prisons. Simultaneously, the flow of information about prisoners has moved away from prison landings and into security intelligence reporting systems, obscuring possibilities for faith as a source of growth, meaning, community, and trust.

This project explores how trust, risk, identity and prisoner leadership work in two contrasting maximum security prisons.The study aims to capture dynamics that encourage human flourishing, even in prison, rather than damage to character, which is an increasing risk. The methodology combines appreciative inquiry with ethnography-led measurement of key dimensions of the prison’s moral and social climate to explore where and how trust might ‘work’ in this contemporary setting. It uses innovative methods to study prisoner networks, hierarches and developing ideologies, to test the hypothesis that forms of identity expression take on a different character in different moral, social and trust climates.

You can read here the key findings from the project

Dr Richard  Bramwell
Senior Research Associate
Professor Alison  Liebling
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Director, Prisons Research Centre
Dr Ryan  Williams
Affiliated Research Associate, Prisons Research Centre