Unspoken commandments: Contemporary correctional officer work cultures and their influence on prison conditions

  • Author / Creator
    Schultz, William
  • I draw on interviews with 131 Canadian correctional officers (or COs), all of whom work in four western Canadian prisons. Building on existing Canadian and international CO research, my dissertation analyzes specific facets of CO workplace cultures in provincial prisons in Western Canada. Provincial prisons, which house prisoners who are awaiting trial or are sentenced to less than two years of custody, house the largest group of prisoners in Canada, but are comparatively under-researched. In this dissertation, I examine how officers practice and enact their roles as COs, detailing specific features of their habitus and demonstrating how it shapes workplace and occupational cultures, attitudes, and behaviours in unproductive ways. The broader, guiding question for this dissertation is as follows: how do officer workplace and occupational cultures shape prisons and prison operations? To answer this, I examine how the CO habitus shapes officer cultural values, and in turn demonstrate how these cultural values impact the daily operation of provincial prisons.
    This dissertation is broken into three central chapters, with a methodological addendum representing chapter four. Each of these chapters targets a specific aspect of how officer cultures function on a day-to-day basis. Chapter 1 focuses on how COs discuss and enact gendered organizational lenses within their work, demonstrating how gender distinctly shapes the perspectives and experiences of new COs. I conclude by discussing the central role that gendered organizational lenses play in helping officers deal with broader organizational shifts.
    In Chapter 2, I focus on how COs interact with use of force. Specifically, I examine how COs use and interact with force as a means of coercive governance, structuring how prison staff maintain control of prison environments. This article differs notably from other research on the topic, as I demonstrate how actions that are often discussed as “corruption” are often directly informed by how COs interact with broader organizational frameworks.
    In Chapter 3, I examine how COs perceive themselves as vulnerable. Building off of Sierra-Arévalo’s concept of a “danger imperative,” I argue that COs interpret nearly every decision they make through a lens of personal vulnerability. I provide specific details of how COs do this, identify the broader importance of vulnerability to COs, and identify points that officers routinely identify when discussing themselves as vulnerable. Finally, in Chapter 4, I discuss my own positionality as a former CO, and identify the specific features of my interaction with officer culture and how that impacted my research.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.