While data collection is still at its early stages, there are very strong grounds for believing that the project objectives will be met with regard to pushing the frontiers of understanding. This relates both to some of the descriptive content of the findings – e.g. practices and experiences of entry and exit, and the nature of imprisonment in the most secure and restrictive parts of the prison system – and its conceptual and theoretical contribution. The analytic framework is proving to be a highly nuanced and sensitive means of assessing different aspects of the prisoner experience. It is enabling a sophisticated comparative assessment between the two jurisdictions, and will provide an enduring vocabulary for the description of penal ‘texture’. In some of the Close Supervision Centres, in England and Wales, for example, it is already clear that the ‘depth’ of confinement (restrictions on movement; high security) is to some degree offset by staff-prisoner relationships that, compared to high-security prisons, are relatively ‘light’. Thinking about imprisonment using such terms moves us some distance beyond the conventional terminology of ‘treatment’ and ‘conditions’. Meanwhile, emerging findings already suggest that the programme of research will confirm, explain and call into question different tenets of the ‘Nordic exceptionalism’ thesis (for example, by highlighting the positive implications of prison size for interpersonal treatment; and at the same time by documenting the common experience in Norway of solitary confinement on remand, and the bittersweet ambiguity of ‘queuing’ to serve a sentence).
With regard to wider impact, the support received so far from practitioners working in the prison systems in both jurisdictions has been extremely encouraging. We have been granted exceptional access to both systems, including the Close Supervision Centres in England and Wales (holding prisoners in the most secure conditions), and to all other establishments that we have sought to enter. Such levels of trust and assistance, at senior levels of each organisation and within prison establishments, are indicative of the potential for the research to directly shape policy and practice, including such issues as prison reception, induction and discharge processes, and the management of prisoners in very secure conditions.