The Changing of the Guard: conceptualisations of prison officers' work in three South Australian prisons

Author: Susan Therese King

King, Susan Therese, 2007 The Changing of the Guard: conceptualisations of prison officers' work in three South Australian prisons, Flinders University, Department of Sociology

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Abstract

The prison officer is central to prison life, yet understandings of this role are limited. This thesis argues that the two overarching (and often competitive)conceptualisations of prison officers' work as custodial work or human services work are limited. Eight conceptualisations of prison officers' work from the correctional literature are identified - Para-military officer, Security Officer, Warehouser of prisoners, Public Servant /bureaucrat, Professional, Manager of Prisoners , Therapist and Case Manager. These conceptualisations are defined and related to one another by examining their construction through discourses of prison purpose and prison process (Adler and Longhurst 1994). The thesis develops the analysis of du Gay (1996) that organisations use discourse as a means of constructing work identities for their employees and the work of Halford and Leonard (1999) who argue that workers are active agents in this process and do not always take on the identity the organisation is seeking to promote. The thesis addresses three research questions �� How has the role of the prison officer been conceptualised by the South Australian Department for Correctional Services over time? �� How is the role of the prison officer currently conceptualised by personnel working within South Australian prisons, what influences the way the role is conceptualised and what purposes do these conceptualisations serve? �� To what extent have the new conceptualisations of the role of the prison officer, articulated by the Department for Correctional Services in the last ten years, been adopted by staff within prisons and what determines the influence of these new conceptualisations? These questions are addressed using qualitative research techniques of document analysis and semi-structured interviews. The thesis identifies that in recent decades the Department has emphasised conceptualisations of the role constructed from normalisation and rehabilitative discourses. Interviewees, forty-four working in three South Australian prisons, (both departmental and privately managed), conceptualised the work of a prison officer as complex and unique and identified three influential audiences for the performance of prison officers' work – prisoners, officers and their colleagues, and the Departmental hierarchy. Interviewees constructed the role of the prison officer in terms that would earn respect for the work from each of these audiences and manage the vulnerability of the officer as a worker and a prison officer. Half of those interviewed conceptualised the prison officer based on a Manager of Prisoners. Other interviewees, critical of the role within their prison, described it as a Warehouser and saw the competition between custodial and human services roles as irreconcilable. The thesis argues that Departmental discourse can be seen to have a significant influence on the conceptualisation of the prison officer’s role by those working within prisons, but that it competes for influence with the discourse of the other powerful audiences for the performance of prison officers' work – prisoners and other staff.

Keywords: correctional officers,warders,correctional services,prisoners
Subject: Policy and Administration thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2007
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr Craig Matheson