Tag Archives: carceral geography

Violent and dangerous places? How do prisons come to be the way they are, and how can that change?

By Dominique Moran, University of Birmingham; Jennifer Turner, University of Brighton and University of Birmingham; and Yvonne Jewkes, University of Brighton

 

John M Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

John M Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

The first annual report from Peter Clarke, the new Chief Inspector of Prisons warned of a ‘grim situation’ in England and Wales, with prisons ‘unacceptably violent and dangerous places’. Nick Hardwick, the outgoing inspector had previously described the prison system as being in its worse state for a decade. 

Beyond these ‘violent and dangerous’ prisons, these are turbulent times. New Prime Minister Theresa May removed Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, appointing Liz Truss in his place. The departure of Gove, following his prominent and controversial role in Brexit, has drawn additional attention to the criminal justice system, and its challenges in light of this new leadership. Truss says she is under ‘no illusions’ about the scale of the challenge.

Before the EU Referendum in the UK Gove, and the then-Chancellor George Osborne, unveiled a major prison reform programme. It included plans for 9 new prisons ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st century, and closure old Victorian city centre prisons, selling sites for housing. This was a high-profile policy, championed by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, in the first speech on prison reform by a PM for twenty years, and in the Queen’s Speech, as he announced the ‘biggest shakeup of Britain’s prison system in more than 100 years’. In the post-referendum turmoil, we wait to see how policy will shift, and how much of this momentum will be maintained.

Closely tracking the prison reform programme as it unfolded in parallel with our ESRC-funded project on prison design, we have explored the significance of prison building in relation to geographies of architecture in our recent Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers paper. The paper draws attention to non-iconic, non-utopian, banal buildings – new prisons. It argues that by attending to ‘signature’ buildings, architectural geographies has overlooked the critical and under-explored circumstances and contingencies of more quotidian constructions, neglecting the mundane processes of procurement, commissioning, tendering, project management and bureaucratisation. Advancing scholarship in carceral geography by considering the processes and assemblages that shape (what will become) carceral spaces, it focuses on what happens before a building takes physical form. The paper seeks to move architectural geographies more meaningfully towards a consideration of the bureaucratisation of architectural practice, as underexplored aspects of building ‘events’. It calls for geographers to pay greater attention to the banal geographies of architectural assembly, and to the banalities of production more widely.

There was much to be hopeful about in Michael Gove’s prison reform programme. There was a sense in which Britain had a once-in-150-years opportunity to design a new prison estate with environments that are safe and secure but also sensual and stimulating, for both inmates and staff. In detailing how prisons have been built up to now, our paper pointed out the opportunities that could be presented by working closely with architects to achieve these aims. There is policy flux around Brexit, and economic uncertainty is anticipated, and with our prisons ‘in crisis’, the resolve of government to follow through on prison reform will be tested.

About the authors: Dominique Moran is Reader in Carceral Geography at the University of Birmingham. Jennifer Turner is a Post Doctoral Research Associate in the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Brighton. Jennifer is also an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Yvonne Jewkes is Research Professor in Criminology in the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Brighton. 

60-world2 BBC Prisons ‘in worst state for a decade’, inspector warns 14 July 2015

60-world2 Carceral geography: a geographical perspective on spaces and practices of incarceration 

60-world2 HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report 2015-16

60-world2 HM Treasury, Ministry of Justice, The Rt hon Michael Gove MP and The Rt Hon George Osborne MP Prison building revolution announced by Chancellor and Justice Secretary 9 November 2015  

books_icon Moran D, Turner J and Jewkes Y 2016 Becoming big things: Building events and the architectural geographies of incarceration in England and Wales Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi:10.1111/tran.12140 (open access)

60-world2Wright O 2016 Queen’s Speech: David Cameron to announce biggest UK prisons shakeup in more than 100 years 17 May 2016

60-world2 Prison Spaces: Fear-suffused environments or potential to rehabilitate? 

 

 

 

Space and Violence in the American Jail

By Karen M. Morin, Bucknell University, USA

One of the greatest misconceptions about prisons and jails today is that the violence that occurs within their walls originates solely in the individual; that criminals are locked up because they are bad or unfortunate people, driven to crime and trouble from some indelible social or psychological cause, and that their criminal nature will follow them wherever they go, including inside the prison.

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotograpy CC BY-SA 2.0

Actually though, prison violence is most often a product of the carceral system, not an explanation for its need. Many methods of prison control – both physical structures and their related penal philosophies – have the perverse effect of increasing levels of fear, terror, and ultimately violence in prisons. The increasingly typical institutional response over the past several decades in the U.S. is to isolate, lock down, or crowd prisoners, which simply creates further stress, frustration, and fear. Many politicians and court officials, particularly those who advocate a “tough on crime” stance, often camouflage these kinds of institutional factors and seek instead to simply extend the prison sentences of offenders who commit crimes while incarcerated – and this in the name of keeping our streets and communities safer.

I work with a local nonprofit prisoner rights group that receives hundreds of letters each month from inmates experiencing intensive “crackdowns,” which led me to understand how ineffective they are at stemming prison violence and how urgent the need is to consider alternatives. Ultimately my curiosity took me inside one large U.S. county jail in Omaha, Nebraska, to study violence and safety within an alternative, ‘progressive’ jail design called direct supervision. This design features, among other things, open architecture and a philosophy of free movement of inmates and staff that proponents argue creates safe, stress-free environments for both inmates and staff. Approximately 350 of the 3,300 local jails in the U.S. incorporate design features and principles of direct supervision today.

As geographers we know that space and spatial design can impact social relations and practices in myriad ways, for better and for worse. Different kinds of spaces can enable and/or inhibit different kinds of experiences and interactions. Prisons in particular are fundamentally reliant on spatial tactics to confine and control people and their movements. My study of direct supervision (see my article in The Geographical Journal) showed just how complex and multi-layered the space and design question can be. Among other findings, most of the men in the study reported never feeling in danger at the facility, and approximately one-third related unit design and layout to these feelings. Yet of those, 17% felt this as a positive impact (feeling protected and safe) but 13% as a negative – that the open architecture actually increased their sense of vulnerability. Most significantly, 70% reported that the availability of open, interactive spaces allowed ample opportunities for them to share information and life experiences, and talk of their basic rights with one another.

Ultimately this design turn towards construction of direct supervision jails is a more civil, humane direction in corrections. But this should not seduce us into believing, as Swan argued, that we can ‘build our way out of the prison problem’.

About the author: Karen M. Morin is Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of Faculty at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA. She is co-editor of Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past (with Dominique Moran), due out in June 2015 (Routledge).

books_icon Morin, K.M. (2015) The Late-Modern American Jail: Epistemologies of Space and Violence. The Geographical Journal.

60-world2 Swan, R. (2013) Punishment by Design: The Power of Architecture Over the Human Mind. San Francisco Weekly, 21 August.

Jobs for Offenders: A Life Beyond the Prison ‘Home’

by Jen Turner

By Steve Woodmore (Flickr: DSCN0204) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Convicted criminals in the West Midlands are being paid to work in call centres for insurance firms. The inmates at HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, and Drake Hall, in Staffordshire, are employed to carry out market research for insurance companies. Former Justice Minister Ken Clarke said in 2010 that prisoners should work 40-hour weeks while serving time. Prisoners work in a variety of jobs such as packing plastic cutlery and headphones for airline passengers, running printing presses and making window frames.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We prepare offenders for work inside prison so they can get a job after release – this reduces the chances that they will reoffend in the future, meaning lower crime and fewer victims.”

In my recently published Area paper, available in Early View, I consider the ways in which the possession of a criminal record can be a fundamental barrier to reintegration into the community outside of prison. Although ex-offenders may idealise a return to the communities where they lived prior to incarceration, the ability to re-integrate is often limited by the transformations that individuals undergo while spending time in prison, such as the possession of a criminal record. The paper explores one scheme where offenders leaving prison are employed on a six-month ‘starter’ employment in groundworking and landscaping. The positive reference that completion of this contract would provide goes some way to counteract the difficulties this group of people have in securing post-prison employment.

Contributing to wider considerations of the tensions of carceral spaces, this paper therefore posits the prison as a kind of ‘homeland’ that continues to significantly shape one’s identity following their out-migration. Those leaving prison find themselves unable to display conventional attachments to the outside society, while performing a dystopian relationship with the prison homeland, allowing for a consideration of what I have termed the ‘prisoner dyspora’.

However, facilitating jobs for prisoners is a contentious issue. With unemployment at about 2.5 million people, some wonder whether these are jobs others can do. This is a tension that will no doubt continue, particularly in the face of Britain’s current economic crisis. As such, carceral geographers continue to examine this balance between the provision of rehabilitation programmes and responding to public opinion.

books_icon

Jennifer Turner (2013) Re-‘homing’ the ex-offender: constructing a ‘prisoner dyspora’Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12053

60-world2Oakwood and Drake Hall inmates working in prison call centres, BBC News [ONLINE], 21 August 2013

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.

 

 

Content Alert: New Articles (2nd December 2011)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Experimental geopolitics: Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic tension
Alan Ingram
Article first published online: 30 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00455.x

Commentary

Earthquake disasters and resilience in the global North: lessons from New Zealand and Japan
K Crowley (Nee Donovan) and J R Elliott
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00453.x

A royal encounter: space, spectacle and the Queen’s visit to Ireland 2011
Nuala C Johnson
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00454.x

Original Articles

Disciplined mobility and carceral geography: prisoner transport in Russia
Dominique Moran, Laura Piacentini and Judith Pallot
Article first published online: 28 NOV 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00483.x