Small voices: hidden diversity in prisons past and present.

Alana Barton, Alyson Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

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Editorial comment: At a time when public and political discourse seems to be dominated by inexorable simplification and the imposition of compassionless homogeneity, small voices are needed. Small voices can provide a check on unreflective generalisations - about individuals, groups or behaviours - that seldom seek causes, justifications or deeper understanding. Small voices highlight diversity of circumstances and experience, impact and consequences. They are complex and difficult, but raise the bar on what might be required to address social problems and injustices. The adjective of small reflects not only the difficulties of these voices emerging, getting out beyond their own immediate space or confinement, but the multiple obstacles which prevent them being listened to and acted upon. Historically, individuals or groups who had such small voices may not have been able to leave records or their records were not considered significant enough to be preserved. For those historians committed to social history, revealing a history from below, the recurrent problem is the dearth of materials produced and preserved by those most marginalised and, thus, the perennial reliance upon sources which may relate to those with small voices but which actually derive from, and are shaped by, those with greater influence and volume. This problem may take a different shape in the early twenty-first century but has a similar outcome. Even though new technologies and forums make it possible for small voices to be more easily relayed, they often remain mediated, overwhelmed or silenced by noisier, dominant speech. In such circumstances, small voices require others with influence, networks and volume to enable them to emerge, be heard and listened to. With this in mind, the contributors to this edition endeavour to capture and reveal small, often unheard, voices within the prison system, past and present. Their aim is to utilise these voices to highlight broader struggles and injustices that can all too easily go 3 / 6 unnoticed and, in doing so, emphasise the extent to which structural factors determine that some groups will differentially experience the criminal justice system and incarceration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-3
JournalPrison Service Journal
Issue number232
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2017


  • Prison
  • voices
  • diversity
  • hidden


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