Sarah Turnbull is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Centre for Criminology (2013-2016). She responsible for the ‘Home and Away: Gender, Nation, Deportation’ project, which is part of a broader European Research Council funded research endeavour entitled ‘Subjectivity, Identity and Penal Power: Incarceration in a Global Age,’ led by Professor Mary Bosworth. The ‘Home and Away’ project examines immigration detention and deportation in the United Kingdom, with specific focus on the experiences of confinement and removal in relation to affective issues of home, belonging, and identity in so-called postcolonial, multicultural Britain.

Sarah has a PhD in Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and the Collaborative Program in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto (2012). Her new book, Parole in Canada: Gender and Diversity in the Federal System (UBC Press, 2016), based on her doctoral research, explores the integration of ‘gender’ and ‘diversity’ into Canadian federal parole policy and practice, with a specific focus on how ideas about ‘difference’ shape penal responses for particular groups of offenders.

Sarah also has an MA in Criminology and Sociolegal Studies (University of Toronto) and a BA in Women’s Studies (Simon Fraser University).

She is on Twitter, Facebook, ORCiDAcademia, ResearchGate, and LinkedIn.


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  • Turnbull, ''Stuck in the Middle': Waiting and Uncertainty in Immigration Detention' (2016) 25 Time & Society 61
    DOI: 10.1177/0961463X15604518
    A defining feature of immigration detention in the United Kingdom is its indeterminacy; that is, there are no statutory constraints on the length of time an individual can be detained. As such, detention is uncertain and unpredictable; it may last a few hours or a few days, or weeks, months, and even years. Consequently, the lived experience of detention is one of waiting: waiting to know both when and how detention will end (i.e. release to the community or expulsion from the country). The denial of liberty and the conditions of confinement present additional challenges for detainees, as they must contend with significant limits to their agency as they await the decisions of a variety of other actors. Waiting has been conceptualised as an exercise of power, one that manipulates others’ time. Although it is a common human experience, for immigration detainees, the lived experience of waiting in the uncertain and unpredictable context of detention is especially challenging. Passing time in immigration detention raises important questions about affect, identity, agency, and resistance within this unique quasi-penal space. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork, including 89 semi-structured interviews with detainees, carried out in four immigration removal centres in the UK to explore the lived experiences of waiting. The analysis demonstrates the relevancy of time and agency in immigration detention.
  • M Bosworth, I Hasselberg and Turnbull, 'Imprisonment in a Global World: Rethinking Penal Power' in Y Jewkes, J Bennett, B Crewe (ed), Handbook on Prisons, Second Revised Edition (Routledge 2016)
    As states around the world increasingly use the prison in the pursuit of border control, penal power has expanded and shifted in its nature and effect. For foreign nationals serving custodial sentences, the experience of confinement is no longer bounded by the prison walls, but now may include a period of administrative detention as well. In addition to a second incarceration, many face deportation, sometimes to a country they have left long ago. In these experiences, they join others detained for immigration matters, held together in institutions redolent of familiar penal technologies while they await expulsion. Penal power extends geographically in other ways too, as states like the United Kingdom fund new prison wings and rehabilitation programs abroad in a bid to hasten the transfer of particular groups of foreigners, as well as detention centres and border control methods elsewhere designed to prevent their arrival. Drawing on research with foreign national prisoners and immigration detainees, as well as on recent policy and inspection reports, this chapter reflects on the implications of these developments for our understanding of the prison, arguing that a broader view is necessary to appreciate its changing characteristics.
  • Turnbull, Parole in Canada: Gender and Diversity in the Federal System (UBC Press 2016)
    Just as Canada's population has changed in the past four decades, so has its prison population. The increasing diversity among prisoners raises important questions about how we punish those who break the law. Parole in Canada is the first book to explore how concerns about aboriginality, gender, and the multicultural ideal of "diversity" have been interpreted and used to alter parole policy and practice. Using the Parole Board of Canada as a case study, this book shows how some offender differences are selectively included in conditional release decision making, while the structures, practices, and power arrangements that would enable fundamental change remain unaltered.
    ISBN: 9780774831932
  • M Bosworth, I Hasselberg and Turnbull, 'Punishment, Citizenship and Identity: An Introduction' (2016) Criminology & Criminal Justice
    DOI: 10.1177/1748895816635720
    This collection of articles addresses the interconnections between punishment, citizenship and identity. As immigration and crime control measures have intersected, prisons in a number of countries have ended up housing a growing population of foreign-national offenders and immigration detainees. It is somewhat surprising that criminologists have traditionally spent so little time exploring the relationship between the prison and national identity. With notable exceptions, scholars almost universally treat the prison as an institution bounded by and within the nation-state. This special issue seeks to disrupt that convention of prison studies and criminology more broadly. Focusing on the incarceration of foreign-nationals in diverse contexts, the contributions to this issue collectively argue that the prison is a projection of national sovereignty and an expression of state power. It is also a concrete space where global inequalities play out. When considered through the lens of citizenship, our understanding of imprisonment shifts to include other geographical sites both within the nation-state and elsewhere, the prison’s intersections with other legal frameworks, and enduring matters of race, gender and class. The contributions capture these dimensions by weaving together policy analysis and first-hand narratives from around the world.
  • M Bosworth and Turnbull, 'Immigration Detention and the Expansion of Penal Power in the United Kingdom' in K Reiter, A Koenig (ed), Extreme Punishment: Comparative Studies in Detention, Incarceration and Solitary Confinement (Palgrave Macmillan 2015)
    This chapter draws on testimonies of staff and immigrant detainees to identify the punitive conditions of administrative detention in the United Kingdom. The narratives highlight the distressing nature of confinement, raising profound questions about the legitimacy of this response to immigration-related matters. This chapter discusses the implications of immigration detention for our understanding of extreme punishment, including the ways in which this form of confinement and its effects are both similar to and different from ‘traditional’ penal practices. In doing so, it highlights how immigration detention reflects the broadening reach of penal power in the service of border control as well as enduring effects of race, gender, and postcolonial relations in a globalising world.
  • M Bosworth and Turnbull, 'Immigration Detention, Punishment, and the Criminalization of Migration' in S Pickering, J Ham (ed), The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration (Routledge 2015)
    Since the turn of the century, the issue of immigration detention has garnered increased attention among scholars in a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, geography, psychology, medicine, law, and sociology. Yet, until recently, immigration detention has rarely been the subject of criminological scrutiny. As the use of detention for immigration purposes continues to rise among countries of the western world, questions as to the purpose, justification, and legitimacy of the detention of foreign nationals are especially salient to the field of criminology. The racialised and gendered nature of immigration detention points to the interconnections between migration, criminal justice, and entrenched legacies of colonialism and imperialism in contemporary border control efforts and responses to population movements under conditions of globalisation. Much of the academic discussion has centred on immigration detention as an instance of expanding state power and the use of criminal justice mechanisms (such as penal institutions and the criminal law) to manage and regulate migrant mobilities – particularly so-called ‘unwanted’ and ‘uninvited’ migration from poor nations of the global south. The widening reach of penal power in the service of immigration policy and border control, and the concomitant rise of immigration detention as a means to contain and control criminalised non-citizen populations, offers the opportunity to further postcolonial feminist intellectual engagement in the field of criminology. This chapter will set out the historical development, typologies, experiences, and impacts of immigration detention, concentrating on Australia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, and the United States. While drawing attention to the historical roots of immigration detention, the analytical focus will largely be on the expanding policies and practices in western countries since the late 1990s and early 21st century. The aim of this chapter is to show the relevance of immigration detention to the field of criminology, including the ways in which this form of incarceration is similar to and different from ‘traditional’ penal logics and institutions. In doing so, it will highlight how immigration detention is reflective of the broadening reach of penal power and of race, gender, and postcolonial relations in a globalising world.
  • Turnbull, 'Aboriginalising the Parole Process: 'Culturally Appropriate' Adaptations and the Canadian Federal Parole System' (2014) 16 Punishment & Society 385
    DOI: 10.1177/1462474514539538
    The increasing ‘diversity’ of penal populations in most western countries over the past three decades raises questions as to the fairness and appropriateness of established penal programmes and practices. In some jurisdictions, penal policy makers and administrators are being forced to deal with the implications of offender diversities, including race, ethnicity, gender, culture and religion, in policy and planning. In Canada, the pervasive over-representation of Aboriginal individuals in prisons has led to calls for change in how the corrections and parole systems deal with Aboriginal prisoners. This paper examines the advent of one ‘culturally appropriate’ adaptation of the parole process, the Elder assisted hearing, introduced in 1992 by the Parole Board of Canada as a means of (1) addressing the problem of over-representation and (2) being responsive to Aboriginal difference. It shows that the ‘Aboriginalisation’ of parole hearing formats is by no means a straightforward process, and is illustrative of the broader challenges that racial, cultural and gender differences pose to contemporary penality.
  • K Hannah-Moffat, P Maurutto and Turnbull, 'Negotiated Risk: Actuarial Illusions and Discretion in Probation' (2009) 24 Canadian Journal of Law and Society 391
    DOI: 10.1017/S0829320100010097
    A "just punishment" is increasingly structured by actuarial probability frameworks. Actuarial risk technologies are often characterized as having supplanted much of practitioners' discretionary decision making with structured, quantitatively derived decision-making templates. Some scholars maintain that the transition to risk-based penality has led to "deskilling," "scientification," and "erosion of professional discretion," or even to the elimination of criminal justice practitioners' use of professional discretion. This paper uses data from 71 semi-structured, open-ended interviews with criminal justice professionals to analyse how the introduction of risk tools shapes but does not eliminate discretion. We argue that risk tools are not simply imposed on criminal justice practitioners; instead, practitioners actively resist and embrace risk technologies and temper the impact risk tools have on their discretionary decision making. We maintain that the adoption of risk technologies reflects a negotiated process whereby practitioners welcome the professional advantages that these technologies afford while affirming the centrality of experience and clinical knowledge in decision making. We show how practitioners differentiate between the standardization intended by risk assessments and their own experiences and clinical knowledges, and how they exercise their discretion in an effort to mitigate the perceived discriminatory effects of the risk assessment. Thus, although risk tools are appealing to practitioners because their supposed "objectivity" makes them more defensible to the public, the adoption and use of these tools in the context of professional decision making is more complex and contradictory than much of the theoretical literature has assumed.
  • Turnbull and K Hannah-Moffat, 'Under These Conditions: Gender, Parole and the Governance of Reintegration' (2009) 49 British Journal of Criminology 532
    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp015
    Despite the widespread use of conditions in various phases of the criminal justice system (e.g. bail, probation, parole), there has been little theoretical examination of their purposes or the implications associated with their use. This paper extends the theoretical discussion of women prisoners’ reintegration by focusing on parole conditions as a form of ‘targeted governance’. Using national data on federally sentenced female offenders in Canada, it shows how parole boards constitute the female parolee as a fractured subject consisting of various ‘risk/need factors’ to which parole conditions are applied. It also considers how conditions are techniques of targeted governance that exemplify an integrated exercise of penal power, which is simultaneously productive and repressive: conditions help prepare women prisoners for ‘freedom’ on parole by mobilizing particular techniques of self-governance, while at the same time operate as modes of surveillance that police the boundaries of acceptable conduct.
  • B Fischer, Turnbull, B Poland and E Haydon, 'Drug Use, Risk and Urban Order: Examining Safe Injection Sites (SISs) as 'Governmentality'' (2005) 15 International Journal of Drug Policy 357
    DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2004.04.002
    This paper problematises the emergence and functioning of the recent phenomenon of ‘supervised injection sites’ (SISs) as a case study of post-welfarist governmentality. We propose that SISs arose as an unprecedented intervention in the late 20th century to deal with the increasing challenge of ‘urban drug scenes’ towards public order interests ‘entrepreneurial city’. Under predominant discourses of ‘public health’ and ‘harm reduction’, SISs became possible within a wide variety of political interests as a technology for purifying public spaces of ‘disorderly’ drug users to present the ‘new city’ as an attractive consumption space. Thus, SISs can be meaningfully understood as one element of socio-spatial ‘exclusion’ of marginalised populations from urban cores to ghettoised, peripheral spaces, even as they more benignly seek to better meet the unique needs of drug user populations. Further, the inner workings of SISs illustrate these facilities as powerful surveillance and discipline sites, defining the drug user as an agent of omnipresent risk being responsibilized in the care of the self and body, but also multiple aspects of behaviour and lifestyle reaching beyond drug use; thus construing the drug user as a ‘normalised’ citizen/consumer. We suggest that pressures to answer to powerful interests promoting ‘order’ are concretised as practices of ‘risk management’ ‘on the shop floor’, raising serious questions about the extent to which the ability to meet user needs is compromised in the interest of social control, surveillance, ‘management’, ‘education’, and ‘rehabilitation’, particularly in the current socio-political context (characterised as it is by a persistence, and indeed concomitant hardening, of repressive measures ‘on the street’).



Research projects

Research Interests

Immigration detention; deportation; gender, race and punishment; parole; criminology of mobility

Research projects