The ethnography of the prisoner transitions aims at developing an advanced understanding of the re-entry process from the subjective perspective of prisoners themselves. The processes, interactions, meanings and conflicts involved in re-entry will be exmined from Roma and non-Roma prisoner’s point of view. Moreover, in order to assess the impact of the cultural, political and social environment on the reintegration process, the research will be conducted in two countries: Norway and Romania. The research sample will consist of 20 Romanian prisoners with Roma background, 20 Romanian prisoners with non-Roma background, 10 Romanian prisoners held in a Norwegian prison and 5 Romanian prisoners with Roma background held in a Norwegian prison. The data collection and data analysis will follow the same procedure in both countries so that comparative analysis will be possible.
The research methodology is based on an ethnographic design where researchers will ‘immerse’ themselves into the subjective realities of the prisoners. The main research methods will be observation, in-depth interview, psychometric tests and photography. During the research, the researchers will spend as much time as possible with the participants prior to and post release. The participants will ‘shadow’ the released prisoners in the first day of freedom. Interviews will be conducted: one before release and four after release (after one week, after one month, after three months, after one year from release). Psychometrics will monitor changes in motivation, agency, hope, problem solving and coping abilities.
One team of researchers will conduct the research: five researchers at the University of Bucharest and two researchers at the University of Oslo. Both universities have extended experience in sociological research. University of Oslo has a special expertise in conducting ethnographic prison research that will support the development of the work by Romanian colleagues.
The ultimate objective of the research will be to contribute to improving the living standards of the prison population with a special focus on prisoners with Roma backgrounds. Both groups are considered vulnerable. The research will have two kinds of contributions: a scientific one and a policy development one. At the scientific level, this research will add to the existing body of knowledge about meanings and understandings attached by the ex-prisoners to the re-entry process. It will also demonstrate if and to what extent these meanings are different for prisoners belonging to the Roma minority or if and to what extent cultural and social environments and structures impact on their understandings and experiences of reintegration.
From the policy development standpoint, this research will identify resources for obstacles to reintegration and develop recommendations on how to over-ride obstacles and develop resources. These recommendations will be delivered to the inter-ministerial committee that will be set up under the Romanian strategy for social inclusion of former prisoners. A film based on ‘true stories’ will be also produced and broadcast in order to challenge and better inform public attitudes towards prisoners and towards Roma prisoners in particular.
The innovative side of the proposal consists of the ethnographic methodology employed. The use of visual data alongside with ‘narrative’ data is expected to produce a more complex understanding of the spatial dimension of the reintegration process. Comparing and contrasting narratives of Romanian prisoners from both countries will shed a new light on how environment and social institutions impact on the subjective journey of prisoners. This aspect might be also relevant when looking at how immigration affects states from Western Europe. The recommendations will be presented to the Inter-ministerial Committee for social inclusion by the researchers together with the ex-prisoners. By doing that, the ‘users’ will have the opportunity to co-produce the policy that will affect other prisoners in the future.
All ethical precautionary measures are in place. Participants will be fully informed about the research and will sign a consent letter (informed consent form). They will be able to withdraw at any time with no explanations. All researchers will sign a confidentiality agreement. Private data, like names, addresses etc. will be coded and password protected. Access to Jilava prison is already secured (see the attached letter). The ethical committee of the University of Bucharest already checked the ethical aspects and will oversee the ethical side of the project.