Doing Harder Time?

Mann, Natalie
Ashgate, Aldershot
9781409428046 (hb)

Order this book?

Cover of book Doing Harder Time? provides the reader with thought provoking insights into the experiences of incarcerated males. By focusing on men over the age of 55, Mann has chosen to centre her book upon several main themes - ageing, prison, agency, identity, masculinity - and in the process contributes to wider discussions found in gerontological, sociological and criminological inquiry. This widens the book's appeal to practitioners, academics and undergraduate students in a variety of disciplines and areas. Mann also challenges the saturation of stereotypical images of the 'elderly' as victims of crime and aims to highlight the increasing number of older men in prison, who she argues have been repeatedly overlooked by governments and in prison service policy.

The book is split into six succinct chapters, with an introduction and conclusion as chapter one and six respectively, and is written in a clear and accessible manner. Although the book opens with a discussion of child sex offenders in chapter two, Mann avoids falling into the trap of sensationalising the perpetrators actions and instead tries to understand this prison subculture through unobtrusive observation and a series of interviews. This works well as she is able to offer a sense of the context in which the interviews took place. Mann discovers that the majority of older child sex offenders report coping well with the prison regime and enjoy close friendships. This contrasts directly with current literature on the general ageing prisoner population which claims that inmates speak of feelings of loneliness and fear.

In chapters three and four, Mann focuses upon the experiences of the more general older male prison population with issues such as health care, employment and education and reflects upon participants coping strategies and sources of support while dealing with these issues. In chapter five, she examines what happens to older men's sense of identity and masculinity when they become incarcerated. Mann claims that the common pains of ageing are intensified by incarceration in an environment which is deeply masculine and designed for aggressive young men. As a marginalised population, she states that older men are doing harder time and experiencing prison as a more severe form of punishment that their younger counterparts.

Framed using structuration theory and illuminated by the work of Bourdieu's habitus and Goffman's theory of interactionism, Mann uses appropriate concepts to work through the findings in her research. As the older prisoners in her study were socialised during a time when respect for authority was a cultural norm, Mann argues that this has in turn shaped many of the men's habitus. She claims that this concept helps to explain the participants' demonstration of passivity within the prison regime. Mann also utilises Goffman's concepts of primary and secondary adjustment to analyse both the conformity and small acts of resistance exhibited by the participants in her research. These theories are described fully in the introduction and interwoven throughout the rest of the book.

Mann's research findings are based upon forty in-depth interviews with inmates and ten interviews with prison officers. As dialectical and immersive encounters, Mann invites readers to become absorbed as she has, by the often distressing accounts of daily prison routines and practices. Doing Harder Time is therefore full of rich qualitative detail which draws readers behind the prison walls and inside the minds of older men in prison.

Although Mann has interviewed prison officers in her research, the voices of these officers remain on the most part muted throughout. While this makes space for a thorough examination of older prisoners' perspectives, it would have been beneficial to have more balance in the book, with the inclusion of more insights from prison officers, who have to work in these challenging environments.

With this considered, Mann's proximity to the older male prisoners in her study and remarkable ability to bring to the fore their perceptions and experiences, is perhaps this book's greatest strength.

Tanita Maxwell
University of Aberdeen