Leeds Beckett University
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"Their ethos is all about building trust": An Exploration of Staff-Prisoner Relationships at a Women's Open Prison

posted on 2023-04-11, 10:28 authored by Sarah WaiteSarah Waite

There is a body of work that acknowledges the importance of staff-prisoner relationships and describes their complex nature in various carceral contexts. Penological themes of power and authority dominate these discussions, and it is only recently that analyses of trust have begun to emerge. Although it has been acknowledged that trust is of central importance to the lives of women in prison, there is a dearth of literature exploring trust in staff-prisoner relationships. Moreover, explorations of staff-prisoner relationships within the women’s open estate have not featured as a central focus within the penological literature. The open prison is presented as an institution of progression for incarcerated women and, despite accounting for a small proportion of the prison population, offers an important site of analyses for carceral relationships and experiences of trust. Using grounded theory and appreciative inquiry, this thesis presents the findings of semi-structured interviews with incarcerated women and staff at an open prison, exploring the ways in which regime and practice create and foster trust in carceral relationships.

Key findings from this empirical research study indicate that staff-prisoner relationships at the women’s open prison are complex and experienced as distinct. The open regime plays an integral role in shaping these relationships, alongside the attitudes and practice of the staff and women within them. Significantly, these findings demonstrate that trust is shaped by the prison itself and therefore operates in a carceral manner. Trust was found to be pervasive, and this filtered through to the operation of relational dynamics. Notably, although trust was limited and constrained, there was evidence of thicker interpersonal trust when relationships overcame explicit carceral symbols and both women and staff were humanised. The thesis concludes that attention should be paid to uncritical notions of trust in carceral settings and the ways in which institutions can shape complex operational and penological themes.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Redhead, R., Davies, B.

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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