About the research

Doing Porridge

Understanding women’s experiences of food in prison

Researchers from the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey, Maria Adams, Vicki Harman and Jon Garland have been awarded a grant (£672K) from the Economic and Social Research Council to explore the issue of food in women’s prisons.


Aims and objectives

This project aims to analyse the experience of food in women’s prisons using an intersectional approach. It adopts an innovative suite of mixed qualitative methods in order to gain valuable insight into women’s experiences of this aspect of prison life. The study will open up wider conversations about food in prisons through an exhibition of prisoners’ art run in partnership with Koestler Arts. This project will make a significant contribution to understanding issues related to food, gender and ethnicity, and will provide an invaluable insight into how food forms part of women’s identities and experiences in prison.

The objectives are to:

  • explore the relationship between food and social identities (such as gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, nationality);
  • understand and explore the different spaces where food is consumed in women’s prisons;
  • explore the extent to which women have opportunities to show agency in their food choices and practices;
  • examine the ways in which food is used as ‘illicit currency’;
  • assess the extent to which food is a source of discontent and dissent among prisoners;
  • make policy and practice recommendations to improve food practices in the female estate.

Our impact objectives are to:

  • Facilitate a participatory element of the research to empower women through the medium of arts and via an exhibition. 
  • Communicate and engage with a range of audiences via a website, social media and podcasts; by utilising a project advisory group to gain further avenues of community and practitioner engagement, and by hosting a final conference.
  • To improve the quality of food and eating experiences in women’s prisons.

Project methods

To address the project aims and objectives we will utilise a multidisciplinary approach employing a mixture of methodologies, including focus groups, qualitative interviews, observations, diary-keeping and art workshops.