Thursday, March 6, 2014

Caring About Older Prisoners

The older prisoner population in England and Wales is increasing as the criminal justice system prosecutes for crimes committed many years ago, and offenders grow old during long sentences. Indeed, they have been referred to in the media as ‘the forgotten section of the prison system’.
BBC news report can be found here
In our paper, we discuss our experiences of undertaking action research in prison to develop an assessment tool for staff to ascertain older prisoner health and social care needs.

We conducted an action learning group where prison officers, nurses and prisoners met monthly to talk about the health and social care needs of older prisoners and the way in which they were identified and managed. Particular challenges for older prisoners include issues with mobility, relationships, chronic disease, their emotional health and fears around discharge back to the community. Whilst these particular areas are important to acknowledge, the focus of this paper is the way in which action learning was used in this closed, disciplined environment, where structure and order are commonplace and reflection on practice is not.
Aging prisoner-news story can be found here.

The four themes that emerged from our data included staying focussed, seeking clarity, the value of space and the impact of group composition on activity and perspective. It is the prison context and culture that has a significant impact on the efficacy of action learning. We suggest that of primary importance in this work is being aware of the need for ‘safe space’ in which to reflect on practice where there is a group of people working together who hold different professional philosophies, ideas and perspectives on how prisoners should be cared for.

You can access this article for free by using this link.

After you’ve had a chance to read this piece, please share your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with our community so we can continue this discussion! The AR+ site is hosting a discussion forum for us to talk about our reactions and experiences related this topic. You can access it here. A quick (and free) registration is all that's needed to join the discussion.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Challenging Practices of Imprisonment through Action Research

Challenging oppressive practices – in any environment – is a difficult task.  Doing so for people who are labelled as dangerous or violent can feel impossible.  My interest in the experiences of long-term prisoners evolved over a number of years, beginning first with researching ex-prisoners returning to society after long term prison in Canada and then continuing as I conducted ethnographic research in men’s maximum-security prisons in England.  Over the course of this work, I gradually came to understand the severity of harm inflicted on people through practices of imprisonment.  The loss of liberty is an extreme form of punishment that, nevertheless, can be very difficult to fully appreciate unless you have experienced it or had the opportunity to observe it close-up, over a lengthy period of time.  Additionally, custodial confinement and the maintenance of ordered prison regimes necessarily translate into oppressive routines, practices and interpersonal relationships (e.g. consider the Zimbardo experiments). 
Tapping and Reflection - HMP Long Lartin Original image found at Koestler trust

The research on which this article reports, attempted to engage directly with some of the inherent problems of imprisonment.  Conducted in three maximum-security prisons in England, the research attempted to incorporate action research-inspired dimensions to facilitate opportunities for prison officers to better understand the ‘pains of imprisonment’ from the perspectives of prisoners.  In some respects, the project was an attempt to try to challenge the system from within.  It aimed to disrupt existing practices enough to allow staff to question the way they were working.  The challenges and limitations of the project were numerous.  But there were also modest ‘successes’ in the moments when the officers with whom I was working began to fundamentally question their own practices or the more inflexible aspects of prison officer culture.  Whilst the project, ultimately, ended prematurely and thus did not lead to successful systemic change, the research demonstrated the powerful capacity for change that an action research approach can inspire.  

My experience of this project, coupled with my continued concern over the inherently harmful practice of imprisonment have led me to consider other possible ‘ways in’ to the criminal justice system in order to challenge the status quo.  In my view, the most likely means of opening up new possibilities is through expanded and sustained action research approaches.  A fundamental principle of action research is to aim to create spaces of possibilities through collaboratively designed and enacted methods.  In a prison or criminal justice context, this may best be achieved through mobilising third sector groups, engaging in activism with prisoners and prisoners’ families or victims and their lobby groups and, crucially, through further work with prison staff and criminal justice authorities. 

You can access this article for free by using this link

After you’ve had a chance to read this piece, please share your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with our community so we can continue this discussion! The AR+ site is hosting a discussion forum for us to talk about our reactions and experiences related this topic. You can access it here. A quick (and free) registration is all that's needed to join the discussion.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lights, Camera...Action Research

It is dress rehearsal. Along with 20 Filipino domestic workers, a handful of Filipino American cast members, director, lights person, media and prop staff, I walk into the theater at Hunter College. Our light technician turns on the lights on the stage to see if they work and we take in a few seconds to look at one another to see if Diwang Pinay, the play about the transnational lives of domestic workers in NYC, is actually happening.

We all walk around the stage to inspect our new home for the weekend. Our light technician turns the lights off again. The stage and the theater is blacked out. She turns it on again. And as I look around at the cast members around me, I am tickled to laughter as all of the women and cast members are giving their best on-stage face, complete with drama, off-to-the-distance stares, pouts and magic in their eyes. We all realize we're doing the same face and burst out in laughter.

This play, a product of years of participatory research, was the action component of the project. For 2 years, the lives of Filipino women migrants working as domestic workers in New York City who are active in families in the Philippines was the topic of a participatory action research (PAR) project in New York City. Along with the Filipino migrants, 1.5 and second generation Filipino Americans who were youth, students and professionals in NYC also took part in learning how to do research, conducting kuwentohan or talk-story sessions, and then producing a play as a form of disseminating findings

The article, "Ang Ating Iisang Kuwento" Our Collective Story: Migrant Filipino Workers and Participatory Action Research, explores the dynamics in creating new methods through participatory action research. The article considers Filipino cultural values of kuwentohan and theater as epistemologically significant to Filipino women as they conduct research on the institutions and social forces that produce their transnational families.

With 5,000 Filipinos leaving the Philippines daily, a little than over half of them being women, this story of separation and migration will continue. The women who experience the pain of migration and who come together to hold one another, must be at the forefront of telling their stories. This article explores how scholars can partner migrants and community members to take on the task. Dr. Tere Castillo Burguete writes, “Migrants are commonly a vulnerable population, and women are part of that as an even more exposed group. It is necessary to hear their stories. It is important to know about the political potential of PAR. That is the challenge that the author of this article undertook, i.e., to pave a portion of the long road that still needs to be traveled."

This article is a one of a number of ways the findings of this PAR project is being disseminated. As you read through the article, view pictures and clips of the play, I want to continue thinking about these questions: How do PAR researchers use play, creativity and artistry as a research method? What role does art play in our research projects, for our research collaborators, for us as scholars? What can social science learn from performance? And vice versa?

I look forward to continuing this discussion with you. Please feel free to offer comments or questions below. 
Valerie Francisco

FREE access to this article for the next 30 days is available through this link. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Our Photovoice journey: An act of exhausting bravery

Our paper brings you more than just “lessons learned,” instead, we show you how fears are deeply embedded in the political statements that our photographs attempt to visualize.  These fears, however, are interlaced by hope, conviction, strength and the belief that our voices, as U.S. Latinas, are needed to frame those political statements.

Initially, the North Portland HEAL Photovoice project hoped to use photographs to understand the everyday lives of Latino immigrant families in North Portland, however, we ran with the project and used photographs to bring forth our voices (which are either submerged or obscured by institutional practices that claim to speak for us). In short, we wanted to make a political statement about U.S. Latinas as creators of knowledge.

Political statements, however, bring out doubts and forces mujeres have to be brave.  The work that you see in these pages, while brave, is also extremely exhausting.  We write about the need to speak up in order to enact change but also write about the fear that often mutes the voices of women of color.   We fear that our experiential knowledge as Latinas could be swept aside. During the project we also came to realize how the many forms of oppression that operate at every level of society, especially in those the institutions that we participate in, could affect how we participated in this project. Finally, we feared that there would be limits to how much change our photographs could make in our communities.

This article is not a manual. It is just one way that one can use participatory action approaches to truly and sincerely give voice to those in our communities.  Our modification of the Photovoice methodology, which we dubbed as Mujerista Photovoice, is an invitation to challenge the way we do methods so we can make more visible the remaining work that needs to be done.

We look forward to continuing this discussion with you! Please offer comments or questions!
Angie Pamela Mejia, Olivia Quiroz, Yolanda Morales, Ruth Ponce, Graciela Limon Chavez, and Elizabeth Olivera y Torre

FREE access to this article for the next 30 days is available through this link.