1st Edition

Prison Segregation The Limits of Law

By Ellie Brown Copyright 2023
    288 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Prison Segregation: The Limits of Law explores the use of segregation in English prisons by examining how law is used and experienced, and how human rights are upheld. It draws on empirical research, through interviews with staff and prisoners, to understand how law ‘works’ (or not) in a site of the prison, which is traditionally characterised by real imbalances of power.

    The book draws on one of the first research studies of its kind: an in-depth ethnographic study of law, culture and norms within the segregation unit. It adopts a socio-legal perspective to explore: (i) how segregation is and should be used in prisons, and how the law sets the parameters of that usage (in theory); (ii) the complex web of laws and rules, as applies to segregation, and their relationship with the actors responsible for their implementation; (iii) how laws and rules can be undermined by the culture and context within which they are implemented. It relies on the voices of prisoners and staff, as well as observations and descriptions, to bring experiences to life. The accounts from staff and prisoners – sometimes joyous, sometimes harrowing – provide a rich and rare insight into the segregation unit. It provides access to, and insights into, parts of our criminal justice system which are typically impenetrable. Whilst it is an academic study of law and power in segregation units (and prison more broadly), it is also a very human account of lived experiences.

    The book is multi-disciplinary in nature and will appeal to those with an interest in law, sociology, criminology and psychology. It will also appeal to those seeking to understand socio-legal research methods in the field of criminal justice. However, the book is also pragmatic and has a number of recommendations which would be of interest to practitioners, lawyers, prison managers and policy-makers.

    Preface Acknowledgments  Defined Terms and Abbreviations 1. Introduction  2. Law and sociology: bridging the divide  3. Methods: at the margins, without trust and the fragmented self  4. Law and contradiction: use of segregation  5. Law and discretion: culture of segregation  6. Law and context: application, accessibility and authority  7. Challenge, change and hope Annex 1- Case law summary Annex 2 - GOoD reasons Annex 3- Interview schedules Annex 4 - Participant information sheet and consent form 


    Ellie Brown is a barrister with a keen interest in prison reform, criminal justice and human rights. Prior to her career at the Bar, Ellie undertook a PhD at the University of Cambridge, examining the use and experience of segregation in English prisons, from a socio-legal perspective. Ellie has spent several years working within prisons and with the Ministry of Justice, to focus on prison reform and re-imagining punishment.

    A truly unique, in-depth analysis of life inside a solitary confinement unit, conducted by a scholar with a rare combination of talents. Brown brings together a sophisticated legal perspective on the "rule of law" in an often lawless environment and a skilled ethnographer’s knack for identifying contextual nuance and truly hearing the voices of the persons with whom she interacts. It is at times a searing, brutally frank depiction of the extraordinarily powerful institutional forces at work in this prison-within-a-prison, forces that can deeply impact and harm the persons involuntarily confined inside, to be sure, but also, in different ways, the staff who choose to work there as well as those who attempt to study it. Must reading for anyone interested in the psychological and moral toll of our current penal regimes. 

    Prof. Craig Haney
    Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California Santa Cruz.

    In illuminating the conditions and relationships in a prison segregation unit, Dr Brown shows the limited usefulness of the rule-of-law standards where staffing practices and perceptions are at least as important as formal rules in structuring official discretion. Anyone interested in the prison system or in official discretion more widely should read this book.

    Prof. David Feldman
    Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of English Law, University of Cambridge

    Segregation holds prisoners at the edge of what the law allows — and sometimes beyond. Ellie Brown’s invaluable and deeply researched book explores the history, law and culture of a process of isolation that is harmful and dehumanising, including to staff.  

    Mr. Alex Sutherland
    Chair of the IMB at HMP Whitemoor

    In few places are human rights put to their test the way they are in prisons. The deepest end of a prison is its segregation unit where people are isolated and literally at the hands of the authorities. To what degree and in what way does law penetrate these prisons within the prison? This book answers this critical question by applying a socio-legal method through which not only law in the books but also law in practice can be understood. As a result, this highly innovative and excellent study uncovers a hollow approach to justice in a place where it is needed the most.

    Prof. Peter Scharff Smith
    Professor in the Sociology of Law, Oslo University