Forging selfhood: Social categorisation and identity in arizona’s prison wildfire programme


This article examines the expressions of identity for participants in the Inmate Wildfire Program (IWP), a skilled prison labour programme in the US state of Arizona. The identity of imprisoned individuals is deleteriously shaped by the penal regime’s construction of the social category ‘criminal’. Yet this process in not totalising. Using evidence drawn from 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork with prison wildfire fighters, I argue that participation in the IWP encourages critical thinking, access to open space, and interactions with the public, which destabilises the label of criminality and allows prisoners to engage in positive forms of identity construction. Prison officials can incorporate aspects of the IWP into other prison programmes in order to promote the construction of non-carceral identities.

Publication Title

Canadian Public Administration