Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (3.97 MB)

Each Day is Different: Prison Officers and Their Work

Download (3.97 MB)
posted on 2021-11-15, 06:48 authored by Napier, Andrea Grey

In 1991 the New Zealand prison service underwent the most significant organisational changes. Instead of homogeneity and unity within the service, with rewards being given for length of time in the job, the emphasis was now on efficiency and competition for what few promotional rewards there were to be in the new career structure. At the same time, there was to be a bigger role for women and ethnic minority officers in the prison service. This thesis examines the way in which these superimposed changes affected the working routines and the day-to-day experiences of prison officers in their aftermath. It argues that, rather than leading to a new dynamic prison service envisaged by the reformers, the prison service instead became more divided and fractious, neither management nor the prison officer body being able to keep control of some of its members, while other officers became merely perfunctory in their work and others developed strategies that undermined the 'each day is different' philosophy now projected by the prison authorities. These resistances to, and subversion of the changes were because prison officer culture, seen by the prison authorities as a barrier to reform, was not destroyed by restructuring but underwent a metamorphosis. It was reformulated and reconfigured to take account of the structural and demographic changes. This then meant that a new prison officer culture emerged, modelled around difference and uncertainty rather than cohesion, antagonism rather than unity. It could lead to deviance and corruption (which the old style prison officer culture had largely prevented) rather than dynamism and efficiency. To undertake the research, the method involved use of questionnaires covering the prison officer body of one typical New Zealand prison, in-depth interviews with 39 prison officers and nine months observation period of the everyday life of the prison officers at this institution. This aspect of the research was stronglyinfluenced by Erving Goffman's dramaturgical perspective. The thesis sets out the theoretical parameters of the research as these relate to prison officer culture, and also provides an account of the methodology and the historical and contemporaneous background to the restructuring. It then provides an empirical analysis that demonstrates the effects of these changes on the everyday work of prison officers. These relate to the way in which the acculturation of the new recruits to the service became problematic because of the confusion brought about by the structural changes and the lack of experienced officers to mentor them. It then demonstrates how 'handling your lag' began to be experienced differently across the officer body, according to their length of service, ethnicity and gender. The old style unity and identity of the prison service was breaking down. This fragmentation was then exemplified by the shift to unit management. This was where power in the prison was now concentrated but, with the prison officer body too weak to regulate its use and with management increasingly distant from day-to-day prison life, this led to unpredictability and corruption. Finally, the thesis shows how many officers tried to adapt to the idea that 'each day in prison was going to be different', as promoted by the prison authorities, by trying to ensure at the same time that each day remained the same: excitement and dynamism could be tolerated only in so far as prison work remained at the same time extraordinarily mundane and routine.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Pratt, John; Sedgwick, Charles