The Qualitative Methods Journal Club (QMJC) is an SSA-funded initiative aimed at increasing knowledge of qualitative research practice. Colleagues from Deakin University (Australia) led the journal club in May 2023, discussing an article about the lived effects of prison drugs policy. They talk about some of the limitations and consequences of in-prison drugs programmes and the importance of ‘centring the voices of people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system’.

A real strength of this article was the identification of how punitive responses to drug-related behaviour, such as the loss of contact visitation rights, produce the kinds of distress and harms that can, in some cases, lead to increased drug use.

Dr Renae Fomiatti, Dr Kiran Pienaar, Dr Ashleigh Haw, and Dr Kyja Noack-Lundberg chose an article from Contemporary Drug Problems for the May 2023 meeting of the QMJC. The study featured an analysis of prison drug policy and programme documents and interviews with recently incarcerated young men (aged 19–24) with histories of injecting drug use.

In their journal club blog, Dr Fomiatti and colleagues write about how drug use is represented as a problem in prison drugs policy and how these ‘problematisations’ shape the lived experiences of young men in prison with a history of injecting drugs.

They highlight the way that one prison drugs programme “reduce[s] the problem of drug use to a straightforward criminal problem requiring legal sanctions”, which obscures the reasons why people in prison may take illicit drugs, including “the fact that they are denied access to medications for drug dependence and other health conditions”.

“Qualitative analysis of prison experiences is rare, and this article demonstrates the significant value of centring the voices of people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system to identify how drug policy can move away from punitive measures that entrench stigma and harm, and instead prioritise measures designed to foster social connection and positive outcomes for marginalised people.”

By comparing policy problematisations with people’s lived experiences, Dr Fomiatti and colleagues say the authors were able to demonstrate how “structural impediments to social support and services actually help to produce the very ‘drug problem’ in prison that [prison drugs programmes aim] to address”.

by Natalie Davies

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