Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences

Space and ethnic identification in a Danish prison

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Ethnicity has come to play an increasing role in contemporary Danish prison life. This development not only reflects the growing number of prisoners in Danish prisons with ethnic minority backgrounds. It also reflects changes in prison spatial policy and institutional classifications. Based on seven months of fieldwork in a Danish high security prison, we investigate how such changes at the institutional level and at the level of policy have affected prisoner’s everyday ethnic identifications. We focus especially on the way prisoners reinforce and essentialize ethnic differences by reference to institutional spatial divisions; particularly the division between regular wings and drug treatment wings. We find that ethnic Danish prisoners spending time in a treatment wing are often viewed as ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ by prisoners with ethnic minority backgrounds in regular wings, whereas these prisoners in regular wings are in turn perceived as troublemakers and chaotic by the ethnic Danish prisoners in drug treatment. We also show how ethnic categories are at times blurred in actual practice. We conclude by discussing the implication for policy and practice; especially, we debate whether new spatial prison policies may unintentionally partake in accentuating ethnic stereotypical thinking.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPunishment & Society
Pages (from-to)580-598
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • drug treatment, ethnicity, identification, identity, prisons, prison space, typologies

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