Also Serving Time: Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Correctional Officers.
By Rosemary Ricciardelli
Toronto: University of Toronto Press (UTP). 2019. pp. 224.
Rose Ricciardelli’s Also Serving Time: Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Correctional Officers examines the experiences of Canadian correctional officers working in provincial and territorial institutions. An underlying theme throughout the book is the recognition that much like prisoners, correctional officers are also ‘serving time.’ This perspective is explained in the preface, where Ricciardelli suggests that the conditions surrounding prisoner confinement and correctional officer employment have notable similarities. Ricciardelli presents two overarching objectives that are examined in the book. The first offers a detailed examination of gender and its relationship to “identity, life experience, opportunity, and contextual factors” (p. 9). The second is an exploration of male and female correctional officers’ experiences and how gendered identities impact work among either male or female prison populations (p. 9).
Ricciardelli draws upon interviews conducted with 100 men and women who have experience working as provincial and territorial correctional officers. The qualitative approach contributes to the richness of Ricciardelli’s data, as the quotes and anecdotes included throughout the book offer insight into the lived experiences of correctional officers. Of course, to conduct meaningful interviews, a researcher must establish rapport with their participants. It is clear from the depth achieved that an interview environment was created in which participants felt comfortable disclosing both the mundane and challenging aspects of their role (e.g., prison work is “99 per cent boredom, 1 per cent sheer terror” p. 48). There is a lack of research conducted on corrections in Canada, partly due to challenges associated with gaining access to both corrections officers and incarcerated individuals. However, the range of interview data collected for this book allows for topics to be examined in considerable detail, thus contributing to a much-needed better understanding of Canadian corrections.
In Chapter 1, Ricciardelli lays a solid theoretical foundation upon which the rest of the book lies. Through an examination of existing literature on the topic, themes of gender and risk emerge. In this chapter, aptly entitled Setting the Stage, Ricciardelli explores ways in which gender and risk are perceived and experienced within corrections. The literature presented in this chapter provides the reader with a cursory and primarily theoretical understanding of the themes. In the later chapters, it is the interview data that allows readers to understand better how the issues of gender and risk influence how correctional officers “perceive, and in turn, shape their work” (p. 15). Through the examination of literature, Ricciardelli defines gender and risk and offers descriptions of other interrelated themes. For instance, discussions around vulnerabilities and risks are useful in terms of understanding some correctional officers’ experiences.
Chapter 2 builds on the foundational information presented in Chapter 1. In this chapter, Ricciardelli provides the reader with insight into the lives and pathways of correctional workers. Initially, interview participants’ demographic features are identified. The majority of interviewees were male (60%), while the remainder (40%) were female (p. 31). Information regarding marital status, religious beliefs, education, and previous work experience is provided. Of note is the fact that all interview participants self-identified as white (p. 32). Rather than shying away from the possible limitations associated with this particular demographic finding, Ricciardelli asks a series of questions to understand better why this might be the case and how it might impact various prison populations, in particular, Indigenous prisoners. Evidence is presented suggesting that correctional officers enter the field through a variety of pathways. Some began corrections to serve their communities, while others drifted into the occupation or were using the job “as a means of actualizing their long-term career goals” (p. 41). The chapter offers a robust discussion regarding correctional officers’ demographic characteristics and the way(s) in which they entered the profession.
Ricciardelli delves into the correctional officers’ occupational role in Chapter 3. One interview participant suggested that the vast majority of correctional work (99%) is mundane, while the remaining per cent involves more stressful, dynamic situations (p. 48). The routine interactions between correctional officers and prisoners are explored in-depth in this chapter. Further, an emphasis is placed on how gender impacts these tasks. For instance, female correctional officers tended to place importance on being “firm but fair” and on communication and patience (p. 52). Ricciardelli notes that these qualities impact female officers’ ability to build professional relationships with the prisoners (p. 52). In some ways, female and male correctional officers vary in terms of their interactions with prisoners. Ricciardelli explains that many male officers also attempt to understand prisoners’ experiences and focus on rehabilitation (p. 62). Despite this, some male correctional officers believed that prisoners were “inherently distrustful and potentially dangerous” (p. 64). Routine correctional work is carried out in differing ways, depending on the officer. Ricciardelli offers readers valuable insight into the role of gender, specifically, plays in correctional officers’ daily tasks.
In Chapters 4 and 5, the reader is provided with insight into the experience of male and female correctional officers. These are perhaps the most significant and interesting chapters of the book. Here Ricciardelli makes use of her rich interview data to discuss a variety of themes. Participants shared raw personal accounts, and the honesty of the interviews contributes to the readability of these chapters. Of particular interest are discussions regarding the different expectations placed on male and female corrections officers, and their ways of interacting with prisoners. For example, female correctional officers experienced accusations of flirting; however, participants noted that similar behaviour on behalf of male correctional officers would likely be seen as appropriate (p. 77). Another interesting representation of this emerges in male correctional officers’ responses regarding working alongside their female counterparts. Some male interviewees suggested they feel “less safe when working with female officers.” (p. 109). These sentiments relate to Ricciardelli’s multifaceted discussion around risk and presentations of gender.
Risk emerges as a prevailing theme in Chapters 6 and 7. Ricciardelli explores how correctional officers perceive risks, threats, and vulnerabilities, and their impact on their work. Perceptions of risk have such a significant role in the occupation that Ricciardelli found the majority of interviewees felt “the potential threat or risk” prisoners, management, and colleagues posed impacted their work (p. 115). Ricciardelli’s thorough analysis of the interview responses in Chapter 6 provides a segue into Chapter 7’s discussions around edgework. In this chapter, a strong argument is made for the classification of correctional work as edgework. Ricciardelli employs a variety of interview data to support her argument.
Also Serving Time: Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Correctional Officers provides readers with an in-depth understanding of Canadian correctional officers’ experiences. The book is written in such a way that even readers with limited corrections related knowledge will be able to understand and benefit from its contents. The use of qualitative interview data in this book adds significantly to the themes and concepts presented in it. The interview data contributes to the book’s readability and creates material to engage the reader. Rose Ricciardelli’s efforts to establish rapport and a positive environment for the interview participants have paid off, and the book provides us with a richer understanding of the correctional profession, particularly as it pertains to gender and risk.
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY