Carceral Geography: Prisons, prisoners and mobilities

by Fiona Ferbrache

Sunday evening, Radio 4 broadcast Dying Inside, a documentary exploring the increase in number of older prisoners (over the age of 50) in UK prisons.  Old prisoners comprise around 9% of approximately 88,000 inmates.  The broadcast exposed some of the realities that older prisoners may face: premature ill health, in particular diabetes and coronary heart disease; and the likelihood of dying behind bars.  One of the key features of this programme was the producer’s (Rex Bloomstein) interviews with older prisoners.  He brought their stories to life by replaying some of these conversations and the rasping voices of elderly men.  The broadcast illustrates a qualitative carceral geography where prisoners are embodied bearers of gender, age and culture.

Carceral geography is also the focus of Moran, Piacentini and Pallot’s (2011) paper in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Their work draws from empirical research on the Russian Penal system, and mobility theories.  The authors argue that much mobility has been conceptualised in a way that emphasises association with freedom and autonomy.  The downside is that mobility is seldom considered as an instrument of power that disciplines and limits a subject’s agency.  As the authors indicate, the academic question ‘why travel?’ is seldom answered: ‘because I had no choice’.

Addressing this under-theorised area of mobility, Moran at el. explain how carceral geographies can help scholars to acknowledge more disciplined forms of mobility.  In their example, power is fundamentally expressed through the (poor) conditions of transporting prisoners between a remand centre and the prison in which sentences will be served (often hundreds or thousands of kilometers apart).  An association between prison, enclosure and static space that comes (perhaps too easily) to mind, is satisfyingly challenged in this paper through the concept of carceral mobilities.

  Dying Inside, 2012 [Radio broadcast] Radio4, 15 January 2012 1700

 Moran, D., Piacentini, L. & Pallot, J. (2011) Disciplined mobility and carceral geography: prisoner transport in Russia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00483.x

J. Pallot took part in a discussion on On womens’ prison in Russia – From our Own Correspondent, BBC World Service, Wednesday 11th May 2011.

 

 

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