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.