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A room with a view? Material conditions and the ‘representational’ inside police detention
In a recent Trip Advisor review of a police custody block in South Yorkshire, the reviewer gave it only half a star and complained that “it was nothing but four walls and a mattress”. This illustrates how material conditions matter to those arrested and detained by the police whilst an investigation is conducted and a decision is taken about what to do next with the case. The purpose of this paper is to examine the ‘representational’ quality of these material conditions of police custody. Whether detainees have access to natural light and are detained in facilities which appear well maintained conveys to detainees something about how they are perceived by police authorities, by the state and by wider society, meaning that if a custody facility appears well looked after it suggests to detainees that their treatment is likely to follow suit. These ideas are examined using findings from a five-year ESRC-funded mixed-methods study of ‘good’ police custody which showed that detainee experiences of different types of dignity – linked to feelings of equal worth, autonomy and public decency - were significantly informed by their experiences of the material conditions of police custody. These arguments are also grounded in prison studies research and theorisation. As a result, I also reflect in my presentation on the boundaries between police studies and prison studies, and the possibilities and limitations of greater dialogue between scholars in each field.


Layla Skinns is a Reader in the Centre for Criminological Research, School of Law, University of Sheffield, having formerly worked and studied at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge and the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, King’s College London. She has a longstanding interest in police and policing, in particular in how policing agents use their authority. A key focus of her research has been on police detention, in England and Wales, but also in other parts of the Anglophone world.

Nov 18, 2020 01:00 PM in London

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