Stopping them ‘upping sticks and moving somewhere else’ – restrictions on UK released prisoners’ mobility

Speaking after a recent Commons evidence hearing, UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling stated his intention to ban released prisoners from moving around the country when they leave jail to ensure they complete their rehabilitation programmes. As reported in The Guardian today, the justice secretary said tougher conditions would be imposed on released prisoners from short sentences so that they could not “move 200 miles up the road for no reason”.

The move was justified by Grayling by describing the current situation as “quite chaotic”, and implying that newly released prisoners’ mobility around the country fuels high reoffending rates. “I do not think that anybody who has come out of prison and is subject to a supervision arrangement should be free to up sticks and move somewhere else”.

Grayling’s words and his intention to restict the movement of released prisoners extend the debate over prisoner mobility and the reach of the carceral system beyond the prison walls. The theme of mobility and punishment has been prevalent within carceral geography for some time, with Nick Gill’s 2009 paper on governmental mobility and the UK asylum estate, and Dominique Moran, Laura Piacentini and Judith Pallot’s 2012 paper on disciplined, or forced mobility, in the Russian prison system.  These papers draw attention to the theorisation of mobility and power, and specifically, the consideration of mobility as an expression of power, in that the forced mobility of detained migrants and prisoners shapes the experience of confinement on the part of these groups. In a forthcoming book chapter focusing on electronic monitoring systems used to track former inmates and detainees beyond the spaces of prison, Gill further discusses mobilities operating as ‘vehicle’ to alternatively deny or deliver punishment vis-à-vis  liberty.

The suggestion by Grayling that prisoners’ mobility be restricted after release in order that they complete rehabilitation programmes echoes these arguments. On the one hand, the extension of spatial fixity beyond the prison wall suggests that the prisoner’s own home and community becomes something of a ‘transcarceral’ space of reconfinement, in which the regime of the prison takes form through a respatialised notion of the carceral. On the other, the apparently essential link between this transcarceral spatial fixity and the ‘betterment’ of rehabilitation sees spatial and social mobility in conflict one with the other. In order to realise the benefits of rehabilitation, in terms of reduced reoffending and improved social mobility, the prisoner must sacrifice physical mobility and the self-determination of location afforded to free citizens.

Although Graylings recent words were couched in concerns over how the UK’s ‘payment by results’ policy on reducing reoffending would operate in practice, his remarks over former prisoner mobility suggest that ‘punitive mobility’ and the extension of the carceral beyond the space of the prison are themes which remain pertinent to the UK context, and which merit further investigation by carceral geographers.

Bastoy Prison Island: “loss of liberty is all the punishment they suffer”

In today’s Guardian, Erwin James visits Norway’s Bastoy prison to look at conditions branded ‘cushy’ and ‘luxurious’, but which deliver the lowest recidivism rates in Europe. The report details the conditions in which prisoners live in Bastoy (in self catering ‘pod’ communities) rather than in mass cellular accommodation, and the attitude towards punishment which prevails in Scandinavia. Even in Norway’s Skien maximum security prison, the loss of liberty is all the punishment that prisoner are intended to suffer.

This report from Bastoy reinforces the differences in penal systems with which carceral geographers are concerned, and recalls the philosophy towards the conditions of imprisonment in neighbouring Finland which is displayed in the Sentences Enforcement Act: “Punishment is a mere loss of liberty: The enforcement of sentence must be organised so that the sentence is only loss of liberty. Punishment shall be enforced so that it does not unnecessarily impede but, if possible, promotes a prisoner’s placement in society. Harms caused by imprisonment must be prevented, if possible. The circumstances in a penal institution must be organised so that they correspond to those prevailing in the rest of society. Prisoners must be treated justly and respecting their human dignity.”

What this essentially means is that Finland has for decades been decoupled from the US (and increasingly the European) tendency to politicize criminal justice policy to the extent that criminal justice becomes a political tool rather than a balanced assessment of criminal justice interventions. As Lappi-Seppälä (2002, 33) observes, in these contexts ‘the higher the level of political authority, the more simplistic the approaches advocated. The results can be seen in slogans that are compressed into two or three words, including “prison works”, “war on drugs” and “zero tolerance”’ which in turn leads politicians to ‘pander to punitive (or presumably punitive) public opinion with harsh tough-on-crime campaigns’. In Finland, prison is not considered to “work” and the solutions to social problems are not ‘sought where they cannot be found – the penal system’ (ibid 33). In Norway and Finland, then, it may be argued that prison policy is informed more by an understanding of the likely success of specific interventions for the stated aims of incarceration, than by a political imperative to respond to public opinion, or as Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2002, 16) has argued, to use the prison system as ‘a project of state-building’ (Moran & Keinänen, 2012).

Much of the work within the new sub-discipline of carceral geography originates in or pertains to the highly incarcerative, or ‘hypercarcerative’ contexts of the US, the UK and the Russian Federation, raising questions over the transferability of theorisations of the carceral to other less carcerative, or actively ‘de-carcerative’ settings. By drawing attention to the penal context of Scandinavia, this Guardian article underlines the need to pay particular attention to context when theorising carceral space.

Carceral ‘Afterlives’ – Punta Carretas Prison-Mall

Afterlives of ConfinementA new book by Susana Draper, assistant professor of comparative literature at Princeton University, uses the phenomenon of the “opening” of prisons to begin a dialogue on conceptualizations of democracy and freedom in post-dictatorship Latin America. Focusing on the Southern Cone nations of Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, she examines key works in architecture, film and literature to reveal the veiled continuity of dictatorial power structures in ensuing consumer cultures.

For carceral geographers, her book has particular appeal for its discussion of Punta Carretas prison, in Montevideo, opened in 1910 as the exemplar of model prison architecture in Uruguay, and copied from the 1898 Fresnes prison in France. Designed in the ‘telephone pole’ style, its aim was to rehabilitate individuals through humanitarian punishment, and its opening, which coincided with the abolition of the death penalty, was characteristic of the Uruguayan state’s modernization plans.

However, by the 1930s Punta Carretas was holding political prisoners, becoming by the 1970s Uruguay’s most important centre of confinement for politicals, until a mass escape in 1971 saw the prison nearly emptied, and the remaining prisoners moved to the new military Libertad Penitentiary. Post-1970s, the prison held mainstream prisoners, and eventually it was slated for closure, a decision initially triggered by rising local property values, but then delayed by the recognition that Punta Carretas was a national site of cultural heritage, which should be preserved. However, the cost of the preservation of the building proved too high for the then post-dictatorship state, and a decision was taken to preserve the building, but to put it to commercial use.

The prison was converted into a shopping mall in 1994, as part of a larger process which Draper describes as a means to ‘envision the country of the future – that is, the country of consumer services’ (Draper 2012, 23). In converting the prison,  a conscious effort was made to selectively demolish and preserve certain features, in an effort to “preserve the spirit of the prison, but in a way in which this ‘preservation’ would not be an obstacle to developing its new function” (architect Estela Porada, cited in Draper 2012, 48). Draper draws particular attention to this notion of the ‘spirit’ of the prison, suggesting that the spirit is connected to ‘leaving behind the prison in architectural form without bringing forth the painful, past spectres of this site’ (ibid 49).

Discussing the actual space of the prison-mall, Draper describes the preserved relics of the prison – the facade, the gateway through which prisoners were previously led to their cells, the walkways on former prison landings, and the former cells which now contain shops, food courts and entertainment complexes. She particularly focuses on the tensions in the building between the inside and outside of the mall, specific relics of the prison which appear disconnected from the mall itself, and the effect of the disguised and fetishised remnants of the prison within the colourful mall.

For carceral geographers, Draper’s book, which also analyses the literary afterlives of Punta Carretas (writings on the prison itself and its transformation) offers an intriguing reading of this site, weaving together ideas of spirits and spectres, idioms and residues, evocation and translation, and the relationship between the unique and the universal.  Read alongside other work on the conversion of prison sites, emerging from geography and from tourism and heritage studies, this work offers a highly nuanced and contextualised reading of Punta Carretas and its transformation, embedded within a wider set of transformations of the Uruguayan state.

Draper, S (2012) Afterlives of Confinement: Spatial Transitions in Postdictatorship Latin America, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, USA.

New papers in carceral geography: space, privacy, affect and the carceral habitus

Over the past few months a number of new papers have emerged which may be of interest to carceral geographers. Written by both geographers and criminologists, they address a range of issues but share a common concern with the importance and significance of carceral space.

First, Thomas Ugelvik’s book chapter “The Bellman and the Prison Officer: Customer Care in Imperfect Panopticons” is a fascinating piece which contrasts the ‘gaze’ of the prison officer and the hotel bellman, as they observe prisoners and hotel guests in ways which balance professional customer care with concerns for security and control. He calls this a ‘dual optic’, ‘partly focused on the needs of others, partly on the potential problems these others represent’ (Ugelvik 2013, 192). Drawing on the penal context of Norway, he also draws attention to the issue of privacy as experienced in carceral spaces and in hotels, in that in neither context can prisoners nor hotel guests completely close off ‘their’ spaces from the officer or the bellman – although he points out the lack of fit between the ‘panoptical’ prison model and Norwegian prison cells, where prisoners are afforded a legal right to privacy.

Next, taking up the notion of prisoner privacy, a paper in press emerges from research into women’s imprisonment in Russia, focusing squarely on the elusiveness of privacy in carceral space. By deploying a theoretical engagement with the concepts of ‘public’ and ‘private’, the paper exlores the experience of surveilled carceral space, specifically the ways in which imprisoned women negotiate and engage with apparently ‘public’ spaces to construct the ‘private’ by deploying a range of personal tactics such as retreat into the self, or intentional violation of prison rules, to experience the ‘punishment’ of solitary confinement. “Privacy in Penal Space: Women’s Imprisonment in Russia” by Dominique Moran, Judith Pallot and Laura Piacentini, is available in early view at Geoforum.

Jennifer Turner’s recent review paper “Disciplinary Engagements with Prisons, Prisoners and the Penal System” calls for ‘renewed interest in the relational, fluid, contradictory and nuanced spaces of imprisonment’ , particularly in regard to ‘the affective nature of imprisonment’ (Turner 2013, 41). She points out the value of perspectives from cultural geography in drawing attention to these nuanced spaces, and in drawing out their significance ‘to open up the political at a more ‘personal’ level’ (ibid 35).

Turner’s call for attention to be paid to the affective potential of penal space is the focus of Dominique Moran’s new paper “Carceral geography and the spatialities of prison visiting: visitation, recidivism and hyperincarceration“, which draws together recent work in human geography on emotion and affect, as a means of understanding the personal experience of carceral space – specifically the experience of prison visiting rooms as liminal transformative spaces for prisoners and visitors alike. In so doing, it argues that in advancing understandings of the affective dimension of human experience in carceral space, carceral geography could not only exemplify a concept, but also participate in efforts to make positive social and political change.

Finally, engaging with carceral space in a very different way, Judah Schept’s forthcoming paper “‘A lockdown facility…with the feel of a small, private college’: Liberal politics, jail expansion, and the carceral habitus‘ discusses ways in which communities participate in the production of the carceral state in the United States, and specifically, the ways in which mass incarceration imbues even oppositional politics, as communities reformulate and adapt the material manifestations of mass incarceration to fit specific local contexts. Schept contends that ‘mass incarceration is both more forceful and more subject to diverse and context-specific formulations than has previously been argued’, and he argues that ‘the corporal and discursive inscription of carcerality into individual and community bodies’ suggests the presence of what he terms a ‘carceral habitus’. This term,  in the context of his paper, offers a way to understand the ways in which mass incarceration pervades even those people and communities ‘which purport to reject it’ suggests that mass incarceration is not just ‘out there’ in media representations, political rhetoric and everyday penal functionings, but also ‘in here’ in the ‘everyday negotiations and productions of the social world’ .

Considering habitus as as an ‘always sociospatially contextualized, nature of practice’ (Holt 2008, 228) enables the notion of carceral habitus as a shared consciousness to be mapped onto tangible spaces, potentially opening a space for carceral geography to consider the ‘carceral’  as emplaced and affective, as a social construction ‘relevant both within and outside physical spaces of incarceration’ (Moran 2013, 176) and to inform future research into the relationship between the carceral and a punitive state.