Ethnographic Study of a Prison Ward Essay

Pages: 5 (1669 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Ethnographic Study -- Prison Ward

Berg (2007, p. 191) notes that ethnographic research is a tendency towards merging the research process with the specific culture being studied. Fieldwork elements such as human ideas and perceptions, as well as other cultural factors combine to form a type of text that can be unlocked an read. In addition, the ethnographer's notes serve as texts to be read for the purpose of the study. With this in mind, my aim is to study a Prison ward.

Permission and Access

There are a number of ways in which permission can be obtained to conduct such a study. My first step would be to approach correctional services officials and explain the purpose and reasons for my study. I would also share with these persons the ways in which the outcomes could help create a platform for better prison management.

Another idea is to approach an official research or management boy, such as the National Institute of Justice (NIJ, 2007) to promote the necessity and validity of my study focus. The NIJ for example responded to the Prison Rape Elimination Act by awarding a qualitative study to examine the perceptions and manifestations of sexual violence in prisons. The results revealed that inmates did not perceive these events in the same way as society as a whole. What would for example be considered sexual violence by general society would in some cases be considered as a somewhat less than unusual encounter in the prison context.

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Another possible approach is to request information regarding possible needs for similar investigations in the current prison system. Being awarded a study project by the National Institute of Justice or a similar official correctional body would provide an authoritative background to the study and enhance the possibility of obtaining permission to enter the prison ward in question.

Essay on Ethnographic Study of a Prison Ward Assignment

My approach to these officials would be to first request permission for the study in writing, and following this up with phone calls and visits to finalize arrangements.

Ethical Issues

There are several Ethical Issues that might be considered when conducting a study of this nature. The main ethical question tends to be confidentiality (Lofland et al., 2006, p. 98). Because the study will most likely take a naturalistic form, confidentiality will become an issue only during the writing stage of the investigation. It is important to ensure the confidentiality of persons involved in the study because of the nature and focus of the study. The prison environment could be dangerous on a variety of levels; both for inmates and personnel. Hence, it is important to retain the confidentiality of persons providing the data.

Another ethical issue is disclosure. I aim to be a participant-observer, and hence the validity of the data could be compromised by disclosing the nature of my presence in the ward. Ethically, gathering data from participants could therefore be constituted as dishonest on a fundamental level. It is however necessary to also retain my confidentiality to a certain extent in order to ensure the reliability and validity of the results.

There are several ways in which to handle these ethical challenges. In terms of confidentiality, all participants will remain anonymous by assigning numbers or pseudonyms to them during the analysis and writing phase of the research. They will for example be known as "Respondent 1, Respondent 2" and so on. Any recordings or other data recorded will be labelled according to these pseudonyms.

In terms of honesty, the prison officials and supervisors will be aware of the true nature of my investigation in the prison. The reason for withholding this information from the inmates themselves will be fully explained. The study will only proceed with the full permission and support of all the prison officials in question. The support of larger correctional bodies such as the National Institute of Justice can be used as support for this phase of the study. Documentation related to the study can also be supplied, while prison guards will be assured of confidentiality of both their own and inmates' identities. Indeed, the location and title of the prison itself will remain confidential as well.

According to Family Health International (p. 17), ensuring confidentiality for the study participants should be a personal commitment. This is particularly the case as the interactional premise of the study could result in friendships. Confidentiality must be ensured by not linking any of the collected data with the names of the persons supplying it.

Gaining Trust as Participant-Observer

To gain the trust of the participants in the social setting of the prison ward, I will spend a considerable time of the day with them. I will enter the setting by attempting to make friends with one of the inmates, who can then be used as a vehicle for further friendships. This will facilitate my ability to observe the social group in a natural setting. In order to make such friendships, I will overcome the initial entry challenge by attempting to find one common point of interest between myself and the inmate I am befriending first. Once this contact point has been observed, I can use it to further the friendship and also to make additional friendships.

My role will be that of participant-observer. This means that I will conduct the study by being part of the prison population itself (Quirk and Lelliott, 2002). I can then use the friendships I make by talking to the inmates about the events surrounding their daily lives. The point is to observe the inmates in their natural setting, record my observations, and form the resulting hypotheses. According to Quirk and Lelliott (2002), this is somewhat different from a non-participative research setting, in that hypotheses in the latter case are generally formed before the research is conducted.

Field Notes and Transcription

Keeping up-to-date and accurate field notes could be a challenge because of the nature of the population being studied. There will be little private time during which to record my observations. However, if the prison includes a computer laboratory, I could use this in order to record the observations I made on a daily basis. I could also use the prison library, or record my observation at the end of each day, once the inmates retire to rest.

According to Family Health International (p. 14), recording data in this type of setting is difficult, and the researcher will to a large extent have to rely on memory and discipline to record data regularly and accurately. Because of the ethical and legal issues involved, I will never use tape record any of my investigations without the knowledge of the participants.

While recording data, I will also never connect any names of inmates or officials with the data recorded. I will adhere to the protocol of confidentiality by assigning pseudonyms or numbers to all the participants mentioned in the research.

Lofland et al. (2006, p. 81) mention a further factor relating to field data; field researches consider all observation as equally important, and attempt to record as much of it as accurately as possible. Patterns and common factors are only identified once all the data are in place. Hence, no distinction is made in terms of importance when observing and recording data for field notes.

In the transcription process, Lofland et al. (2006, p. 107) emphasize the importance of the researcher's own involvement. In other words, rather than hiring a professional to transcribe the data, the researcher him- or herself should do this. The reason for this is that the researcher has been closely involved in the process of observing the data, and can therefore make a more accurate estimate of accuracy during the transcription process.

After the transcription process, I would then study and analyze the data in order to determine specific patterns and trends that emerge.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Ethnographic Study of a Prison Ward.  (2010, October 23).  Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

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"Ethnographic Study of a Prison Ward."  23 October 2010.  Web.  20 October 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Ethnographic Study of a Prison Ward."  October 23, 2010.  Accessed October 20, 2020.