Ghosts beyond our realm : a neo-abolitionist analysis of prisoner human rights and prison officer occupational culture
The aim of the thesis is to critically evaluate the influence of the Human Rights Act (1998)[HRA] on prison service policies and prison officer understandings of prisoner human rights, in the period from October 2000 to October 2005. Discourse analysis is used to structure the thesis, with the implementation of the HRA located within what Foucault (1972) has called a "discursive formation": that is, the complex interrelationship between penology, law, penal policy, and occupational culture. Utilising a neoabolitionist normative framework, the legitimacy of the current meanings of prisoner human rights are scrutinised, and an alternative promoted. It is argued that in the five year period under review, the HRA has been restrictively interpreted in domestic courts and effectively marginalised in penological discourses and prison service policies. Focus then turns to an empirical study of prison officer occupational culture, conducted in one prison in the North West of England in 2002. The central finding is that in the original starting position of officer-prisoner relationships, prisoners are constructed as ghost like figures whose needs and sufferings are invisible to officers. Justified through psychic distancing, prisoners are othered and constructed as beyond the realm of humanity. The failure of the HRA to institutionalise a human rights culture or expand upon previous meanings of prisoner rights, is located within the inherent double dehumanisation of prison work, populist penological discourses, the limitations of legal interpretation, carceral clawback, and a lack of political will. The thesis concludes with the promotion of an alternative positive rights agenda for citizens, and a call for alternative means of dealing with wrongdoers that recognises their shared humanity.