Doing Reflectively Engaged, Face-to-Face Research in Prisons: Contexts and Sensitivities

  • James E. Sutton
Reference work entry


This chapter begins by establishing an historical trajectory of face-to-face research with prisoners. It goes on to identify fundamental features of prisons and prisoners’ lives that make them sensitive settings and populations for researchers to study, and it then presents ethical considerations that researchers must be mindful of when carrying out this kind of research. Ethical concerns both within and beyond the scope of formal Institutional Review Boards are outlined and explored, as are researcher strategies for managing boundaries and emotions when doing prison research. To the extent that ethics, emotions, researcher presentation of self, and similar themes have been written about within the context of prison research, they have primarily been framed as considerations for qualitative field researchers. By way of contrast, an underlying assumption of this chapter is that those who do other forms of face-to-face research with prisoners, including quantitative self-report surveys, mixed-method approaches, and focus groups, should similarly engage with these themes. This chapter ultimately endorses being reflectively engaged with the setting, the research process, and oneself when doing face-to-face research in prisons, regardless of the substantive goals of one’s study or the particular research methods one employs. Accordingly, the issues raised in this chapter will be relevant to a range of health and social science researchers who enter prisons to study prisoners.


Prison Corrections Research ethics Sensitive research Reflexivity Total institution 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and SociologyHobart and William Smith CollegesGenevaUSA

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