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The Legally Sanctioned Stigmatisation of Prisoners' Families - FINAL.pdf (290.77 kB)
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The legally sanctioned stigmatization of prisoners families

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posted on 2023-06-21, 06:02 authored by Marie Hutton
It is frequently documented that prisoners’ families are subject to a ‘courtesy stigma’(Goffman 1963); akin to a guilt by association for choosing to remain connected to an imprisoned loved one. However, to date there has been little examination in the literature of the extent to which this courtesy stigma is embodied in the national rules and local procedures of prisons in their visiting practices. This chapter addresses that lacuna. Drawing on Link and Phelan’s (2001) classic schema of the elements of stigma, this chapter will illuminate how the various elements of stigma manifest during visiting procedures. Prisoners’ families’ are labelled, misguidedly treated as a ‘separate’ group within society and negatively stereotyped leading to their suffering a loss of status as their ‘outside’ identities are erased by the prison. This legally sanctioned stigmatisation of prisoners’ families is bought most clearly into focus when comparisons are drawn between how official and social visitors are treated, and more importantly, trusted by the prison system. Despite both groups entering the prison as outsiders, there were important differences around how they were processed, the extent to which they were searched and the location and conditions under which their visits took place once both groups entered the sphere of the prison. These markers of status inspired differential treatment presented in each establishment and were always to the detriment of social visitors who were ultimately treated as untrustworthy and inferior bodies. Accordingly, I argue that this differential treatment should be viewed as a form of associative discrimination; in essence that prisoners’ families are spuriously treated less favourably than official visitors, not because of who they are but because of who they are related to; prisoners.


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  • Published

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  • Accepted version


Oxford University Press

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Prisons, punishment, and the family: towards a new sociology of punishment?

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  • Law Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Crime Research Centre Publications

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  • Yes

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Peter Scharff Smith, Rachel Condry

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