Guest post by Agnieszka Martynowicz, a doctoral candidate at the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at the University of Ulster. She is currently researching the experiences of Polish men and women imprisoned in Northern Ireland. Her fieldwork started in September 2013 and has so far concentrated mainly on interviews with male prisoners in the high security Maghaberry Prison near Belfast.
What is less obvious is that in recent years the NIPS has been undergoing another transition. Since 2000, Northern Ireland has witnessed an unprecedented level of international migration. The 2011 Census figures show that around 4.5% of the Northern Ireland population was born outside of the UK and Ireland, an increase of 2.5% since 2001. In the last ten or so years, the population of foreign national prisoners in Northern Ireland prisons grew from single figures to around 7% of the overall population. The largest group of those are Polish prisoners.
While documenting their experiences of imprisonment here, my research also considers how new identities are negotiated in a system with little history of diversity amongst both prisoners and staff―a system which still struggles with the legacy of a sectarian conflict where ‘identity’ was very much understood as the divide between ‘Green and Orange.’ At the time when any debate about integration of the ‘new communities’ or ‘multiculturalism’ is largely overshadowed by calls to protect the identities of the ‘two main communities’ in Northern Ireland, and when the number of racist attacks on ‘new migrants’ are on the increase, I'm also interested to explore if and how this wider social context is reflected inside the prisons. I'm aiming to conclude my fieldwork at the end of April 2014.
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