Punishment, mass incarceration, and death in US and UK prisons: through the eyes of prison chaplains
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date10/07/2020
Walters-Sleyon, George Mitten-Gmah
This thesis is a theo-criminal justice comparative investigation of the intersections between punishment, the phenomenon of mass incarceration, and “death” (both physical and civil [civiliter mortuus]) in the prisons of the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) (Scotland, and England and Wales) through the experiences of prison chaplains. Considering the various shifts to penal harshness after 1970, it provides a data-driven analysis of the consequences of longer sentences reflected in the high rates of ageing, dying and death of prisoners as convicts and non-convicts on remand, in jails and imprisoned for violent and non-violent crimes. In so doing, it contends that these penal conditions describe the normalization of the prison cultures within which prison chaplains function as religious caregivers to ageing, dying and dead prisoners. An underlying exploration in this research is the theoretical and empirical analyses of prison chaplains’ recollection of their prison experiences under the shadows of the “turns” to penal harshness. It argues that prison chaplains have witnessed these consistent penal shifts, their existential consequences, and their theological implications as the basis for their theoretical and practical understanding of the prison cultures of the US and the UK penal systems. In contrast to the argument that crime is the fundamental reason for the normalisation of penal punitiveness and its production of mass incarceration, I also argue that other factors have played central roles that are both historical and contemporary. The research contends that the processing and incarceration of prisoners, many of whom are economically poor and racially marginalised, (poor Whites, Blacks and Hispanics in the US; and poor Whites, Blacks, Asian, Minority ethnic groups in the UK) is disproportionate to that of any other group in the wider population and that this holds true ̶ notwithstanding the differences of scale between them ̶ for both the US and the UK. It is these penal conditions of harshness and mass imprisonment that prison chaplains have described as “the normativity of darkness” (PCS 111) based on their years of prison chaplaincy. The research asserts that a historical, criminal justice reform centred, and theological critique is needed in prison research described as (1) A penal crisis; (2) A moral crisis; and (3) An ethical crisis. While previous prison research includes comparative penal analyses between the US and the UK, my research provides a critique that sheds new light on the phenomenon of mass imprisonment and efforts to confront it. As theoretical and empirical research, it is distinct from previous research in three ways: (1) The theoretical aspect explores how each nation after 1970 has arrived at the shifts to penal harshness from an emphasis on rehabilitative sentences through penal laws and policies; (2) It comparatively explores the continuities between the shifts to penal harshness and the high rates of ageing, dying and death of prisoners (“natural in-prison deaths, homicides and suicides) in the US and the UK penal systems; (3) The empirical portion explores the prison recollections of prison chaplain participants’ in ministering to ageing, dying and dead prisoners in the US and Scotland. The empirical analysis is in addition to theoretical perspectives on the roles of prison chaplains in England and Wales particularly from the Church of England. I do not assume that the penal systems of the United Kingdom are monolithic. The UK has three different legal systems: Scotland, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. This research will focus specifically on the penal systems of Scotland, England and Wales while recognising the three penal structures associated with the United States penal system: Federal, State, and County. Similarly, this research does not assume that the prison recollections of prison chaplains and their various interpretations are monolithic. Instead, it provides a descriptive analysis of the prison chaplain participants’ reflections based on their diverse religious, social, educational and penal experiences within the scope and limitation of this research.
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