Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to foreground and analyse the views of people in custody about the management of the COVID-19 pandemic within the Scottish Prison Estate. The project is unique in using a correspondence participatory action methodology to engage with a group of people in custody at one Scottish prison. Design/methodology/approach: At the time of ethical approval (early April 2020), all face-to-face research projects facilitated by the Scottish Prison Service were paused. In response to these methodological challenges, a participatory correspondence methodology was designed to allow people in custody to influence the direction of this project by suggesting research questions and themes. Eight participants were selected due to previous participation in research projects at one Scottish prison. All participants were adult males and serving long-term sentences. After consent was given via post, eight letters were distributed to participants with questions about their COVID-19 experiences. Methodologically, this project illustrates the potential for correspondence methods to facilitate insights into life in custody during what emerges as a particularly challenging time. Findings: Participant suggested questions were used across six subsequent letters to elicit unique insights into the COVID-19 pandemic, of lockdown and subsequent easing of lockdown conditions in custody. The main project findings relate to challenges that the participants faced in relation to communication, feelings of heightened isolation and detachment from family, friends and the normal rhythms of life in prison. Analysis of letters provides unique insights into the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic in custody enhanced the pains of imprisonment, increasing the “tightness”, “depth” and “weight” of participants’ time in custody. Originality/value: This paper is methodologically, epistemologically and theoretically original in foregrounding the views of people in custody about the management of COVID-19 in prison and using a correspondence participatory action research method. The conclusion considers the extent to which views from what might be considered the bottom of hierarchies of power within prison settings are able to influence the direction of prison policy around the management of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
- Correspondence methodology
- Lockdown in prison
- Prisoner and staff relationships
- Scottish Prison Service