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Steroid Use Among Inmates in Belgian Prisons

aSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Switzerland
bResearch Assistant, Switzerland

Doping in Sport and Fitness

ISBN: 978-1-80117-158-8, eISBN: 978-1-80117-157-1

Publication date: 12 December 2022


While steroid use in the sports context has already been extensively studied by academic researchers, its patterns and implications in the prison context have received scant attention. Why do inmates use androgenic–anabolic steroids (AAS)? How does this use relate to sports activities, in particular fitness training, and what does it mean vis-à-vis the body image that is promoted in this environment? Does it even relate to fitness or sport? How do prison authorities regulate or prevent prisoners' AAS use? This empirical study is based on 28 interviews with 19 inmates and nine staff members (guards, managers) of four Belgian prisons. We showed that steroid use is largely connected with fitness activities and that it has an instrumental, goal-oriented dimension. AAS are used for athletic/performance purposes, e.g. increasing muscular strength. They also help gain or maintain a satisfactory body (self-)image, which has implications on the own identity, prestige and power relations within the prison community. In jail, the body is a major type of symbolic capital that is intended to reinforce status and cope with the difficulties and actual conditions of incarceration. We also observed differences in the perceived legitimacy of the various drugs that are used in prison. While guards are more tolerant towards AAS than other drugs, prisoners are less prone to openly confess to using AAS. Admitting to using AAS would damage the inmate's reputation, the legitimacy of his muscled body, and the subsequent goals of individual power and prestige.



Fincoeur, B. and Rullo, J. (2022), "Steroid Use Among Inmates in Belgian Prisons", Henning, A. and Andreasson, J. (Ed.) Doping in Sport and Fitness (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 16), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 139-153.



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