' We Call it Jail Craft': The Erosion of the Protective Discourses Drawn on by Prison Officers Dealing with Ageing and Dying Prisoners in the Neoliberal, Carceral System

Sociology. 2018 Dec;52(6):1152-1168. doi: 10.1177/0038038517695060. Epub 2017 Apr 7.


The UK prison population has doubled in the last decade, with the greatest increases among prisoners over the age of 60 years, many of whom are sex offenders imprisoned late in life for 'historical' offences. Occurring in a context of 'austerity' and the wider neoliberal project, an under-researched consequence of this increase has been the rising numbers of 'anticipated' prison deaths; that is, deaths that are foreseeable and that require end of life care. We focus here on 'jail craft'; a nostalgic, multi-layered, narrative or discourse, and set of tacit practices which are drawn on by officers to manage the affective and practical challenges of working with the demands of this changed prison environment. Utilising findings from an empirical study of end of life care in prisons, we propose that the erosion of jail craft depletes protective resources and sharpens the practical consequences of neoliberal penal policies.

Keywords: end of life; inequality; neoliberalism; nostalgia; prison officers; prisons.