“I do enjoy the work, but I think the wages in the jails are shocking.” Analysing prisoner wages as a pain of imprisonment using Foucault’s artifice

Matt Maycock, Daniel Mcgregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Until now, wages in prison and the meanings associated with them have been relatively overlooked within penology. This study analyses findings from a research project conducted between 2019 and 2021 that explores multiple meanings attached to prisoner wages. Through the analysis of 29 semi-structured interviews were conducted with a cohort of purposely selected people in custody across three prisons in Scotland, this study provides unique and rich insights into prison wages. Themes analysed include comments relating to wage rates and what emerges as a particularly tenuous link between wages within and outside prison. Receiving a weekly wage close to the hourly UK minimum wage was seen as an integral part of the life in prison and compounded feelings of detachment to life outside of prison. Our findings also indicate that sentiments associated with prison wages are significantly shaped by pre-prison experience of wages. The impact of imprisonment in relation to prison wages are stratified by income, given the differences in experience related to pre-prison employment and wage levels. Our paper also situates prison wages within a wider context through engaging with Foucault’s notion of ‘artifice’, this served to develop an understanding of the logic behind the low levels of remuneration for prison work. Our study has relevance in all prison jurisdictions where people in custody receive wages significantly less than local minimum wage legislation or sectoral tariffs would normally dictate.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Cite this