The research suggests that being treated fairly by their superiors and developing good relationships with colleagues are crucial to prison officers’ sense that the authority vested in them is morally right. In turn, that sense of self-legitimacy increases their support for the rehabilitation of those in custody.
Dr Thomas Akoensi, of the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, worked on the study alongside Dr Justice Tankebe from the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. They argue that the link between factors affecting prison officers’ sense of their own power and their subsequent support for rehabilitation is key to maintaining order within the prison system, since prison officers’ beliefs can impact their job performance. Further, a lack of support for rehabilitation can result in deliberate efforts to undermine these programs.
The study, ‘Prison Officer Self-Legitimacy and Support for Rehabilitation in Ghana’, saw the researchers survey prison officers working in medium and low security prisons in Ghana to investigate the influences upon their personal sense of self-legitimacy and how this affects their support for the rehabilitation of prisoners.
A total of 1,062 prison officers took part in the study. Questionnaires were distributed to the prison officers in open meetings, and were used to measure five key variables: self-legitimacy, support for rehabilitation, relations with individuals in custody, fair treatment by supervisors, and relations with colleagues.
The research provides useful evidence for prison managers seeking to understand and influence prison officers’ job performance and motivations.
Dr Akoensi said: ‘Relationships are key to prison life and an important goal of imprisonment is to rehabilitate individuals who are in custody. Support among prison officers is crucial in Ghana, where rehabilitation programs are limited in scope and where officers have to be innovative and make sustained personal investments in the lives of those in custody to assist with changing their offending behaviour.
‘In our study, attitudes towards rehabilitation programmes varied significantly according to the differences between officers’ sense of their own moral authority, which was shown to be influenced by their relationships with their colleagues and direct supervisors. Good relationships are vital for nourishing officers’ self-belief and maintaining their support for rehabilitation programmes.’