The main driver for this special issue was a profound concern about prison research and its future. The development of penal policy these days seems to be driven by levers such as increasing ‘law and order’ discourse which claims that the use of imprisonment is legitimate and that ‘prison works’; neo-liberal punitiveness in the implementation of imprisonment; and a managerial focus on ‘what works’ in prisons. This situation carries the risks that statutory agencies and academic researchers are drifting apart, which might jeopardise both the future of prison research and the evidence base of penal policy.
The focus of this special issue is not on the ‘findings’ of prison research but, more importantly, on ‘how’ we do it and ‘why’ we do it certain ways, including the many legitimate concerns around access, choice of method, managing field work and communicating results, as well as ethical dilemmas that arise in all of these situations. We provide space for this very important discussion, reflecting not only the practical challenges of researching a total institution but also the politics which permeates every stage of such research. We invite you, the reader, to join us in this conversation.
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