“It is important to be a prison officer and have trade union backup” exploring trade union membership within the Scottish Prison Service

Katrina Morrison, Matthew Maycock

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Otherpeer-review


Within many countries, uniformed prison officers are the most unionised profession, running counter to wider trends that point towards a consistent decline in trade union membership. Within Scotland, over 85% of eligible prison officers are members of their union—the Prison Officers Association Scotland (POAS). In the context of a broader absence of analysis of the function and value of union membership for individual prison officers, the influence of the POAS for its members has until now been under-analysed. Through the analysis of 311 responses to a survey of all POAS members undertaken in April and May of 2021, in this chapter we argue, first, that the current literature on prison officer identities and prison officer unionisation does not capture the complexity of what union membership means to prison officers. This reaches far beyond simple resistance and opposition to progressive changes, to include a pastoral function as well the maintenance of good conditions in a working environment often felt to be unsafe, and where trust is at a premium. Second, we argue the current literature does not capture the divided allegiances to different parts of the union in the Scottish context, due in part to the different roles that different parts of the union play, as well as the contingent role of personalities and trust on a local level and the national union’s role as a political actor often felt to be working too closely with the prison service. Therefore, we cannot talk about ‘the union’ collectively because the union means different things to different members and can also literally refer to different organisational functions. We conclude by arguing the study of prison officers must be especially attentive to the role that union membership has for its members, and our analysis must be attentive to the nuanced and contingent nature of membership.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPrison Officers
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Perspectives on Prison Work
EditorsHelen Arnold, Matthew Maycock, Rosemary Ricciardelli
Place of PublicationCham Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783031410611
ISBN (Print)9783031410604
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology
ISSN (Print)2753-0604
ISSN (Electronic)2753-0612

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