Convict criminology is the study of criminology by those who have first-hand experience of imprisonment. This is the first single-authored book to trace the emergence of convict criminology and explore its relevance beyond the USA to the UK and other parts of Europe.
Addressing epistemological issues of ‘insider research’, it presents uniquely reflexive scholarship combining personal experience with critical perspectives on contemporary penality. Taking a gendered approach and focusing explicitly on men, it covers:
• the way prisoners, ex-prisoners and prison research contribute to criminological knowledge
• historical figures in criminology whose prison experiences are rarely recognised
• the way racism, colonialism and class shape penal experience and social worlds
Drawing from his own experience of imprisonment, prison research and criminology, the author demonstrates how this experience can expand the criminological imagination. It is a novel and compelling account for students, teachers, academics and penal practitioners. It will inform, educate and entertain anyone working in criminal justice, the legal and para-legal professions and those with an interest in social justice.
This chapter opens with a short reflective memory from the author’s period of imprisonment. This vignette is then linked to the author’s subsequent experience as a prison researcher, and the necessity of connecting the two. The relationship between committing crimes, criminal justice procedure, imprisonment and the epistemological project of criminology are all discussed through an account inflected with personal experience of each. The book’s structure and narrative style are also introduced and briefly discussed. Each chapter begins with a short autobiographical reflection connected to the author’s experience of imprisonment.
This chapter identifies and discusses the roots of convict criminology in the work of Frank Tannenbaum during the first half of the twentieth century. The chapter suggests that although Tannenbaum’s contributions to criminology are relatively well established, the relevance of their connection to various aspects of his biography are not so widely recognised. In particular, Tannenbaum’s political activism, his subsequent incarceration and ensuing contributions to penal reform are neglected, as are his studies of race and race relations. The chapter surfaces his correspondence with W. E. B. Du Bois and discusses the political context of his work. The chapter proceeds and concludes with another biographical sketch of another influential figure in the critical current of US social science with experience of imprisonment, Saul Alinskey.
This chapter sets out the emergence of convict criminology in the USA through a discussion of the life and work of John Irwin. It traces Irwin’s progression from prisoner to professor via Soledad Prison and the University of California, Los Angeles. His subsequent academic work on prisons, with prisoners and contributions to prison reform provide the archetype for convict criminology. Irwin’s trajectory after completing his five-year sentence for robbing a petrol station as a teenager is compared to that of black power activist George Jackson’s for a similar youthful offence. Jackson was controversially killed in prison in 1971. The central position of race in the USA’s penal politics is emphasised through this and the ensuing discussion of the US convict criminology group. The published work of members of this group are critically discussed, as are their wider contributions to criminology in the USA.
This chapter announces Peter Kropotkin as the original convict criminologist through a discussion of his seminal, but little known work, ‘In Russian and French Prisons‘, published in 1887. The combination of conventional empirical research with personal experience of imprisonment in Russia and France equip Kropotkin with unique resources for a critical discussion of various aspects of prison life, the role of prison in society and the futility of political reform. The chapter proceeds with a wide-ranging discussion of the role that experience of imprisonment has played in the working lives of various European intellectuals, with varying degrees of connection to criminology. It concludes with an account of the way campaign groups in the UK and Scandinavia have worked with prisoners and ex-prisoners to generate pressure for change in penal politics.
This chapter considers how criminal convictions disqualify a person from full citizenship and seeks to redress the relative criminological neglect of the lasting impact of criminal stigma. It includes a detailed discussion of UK legislation in the form of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and how developments in the first decade of 21st century have largely cancelled its benign intentions. The proliferation of procedures for collecting and distributing criminal records in the UK by the Criminal Records Bureau is critically examined before the chapter proceeds with a brief international review of the way vetting procedures and surveillance expose people with a criminal record to continuing sanction and stigma.
This chapter revisits arguments around the significance of race and class to patterns of incarceration. Engaging with Loic Wacquant’s analysis, the author introduces the perspective of Stuart Hall on ‘new ethnicities’, and argues for more consistent, coherent and sustained attention to the politics of race, class and gender within convict criminology. The chapter includes a discussion of the way an epistemology of ignorance succeeds in disengaging questions of race from mainstream criminology. It concludes by appealing for further developments of anti-racism within convict criminology, and speculates on the value of studies of whiteness to this project.
This chapter considers how convict criminologists offer something new and distinctive to criminology in general, and the study of imprisonment in particular. Inspired by C Wright Mills classic work, The Sociological Imagination, its point of departure is his advocacy for sociological craftwork that links personal biography with social history, and personal experience with social structures. The chapter discusses the role of reflexivity in this project and presents personal reflections on imprisonment, masculinities and ethics.
The final chapter draws from George Orwell’s reflections on England and Imperialism to reflect on the state of contemporary criminology and struggles for social justice in the increasingly fragile and fractious entity known as the United Kingdom. The potential of convict criminology to develop and make critical contributions to both, forms the substance of this summary discussion. Focussing on the recent emergence of convict criminology in the UK, the author traces some of the contours of what it might become, and looks forward to some of the paths it might take.
The first authoritative volume to look back on the last 50 years of The Open University providing higher education to those in prison, this unique book gives voice to ex-prisoners whose lives have been transformed by the education they received. Offering vivid personal testimonies, reflective vignettes and academic analysis of prison life and education in prison, the book marks the 50th anniversary of The Open University.