Prisoners’ images in Russia and California from ‘Prison Photography’

Two fascinating posts from Prison Photography caught my eye this past week.

The first is a reference to Olga Chagaoutdinova‘s collection entitled ‘The Zone/Prisoners’  which was exhibited at Far East Museum of Fine Art, Khabarovsk, Russia, in 2006. Olga’s website reveals tantalisingly about the work behind the images, other than to say: ‘“Prisoners,” begun in 2005 and continued for two years, is a series of psychological portraits taken in a women’s prison in the Russian Far East. The intent of the project was to observe human existence in a panoptic and punishing environment. Extended interviews with the prisoners allowed me to investigate the notion of personal identity, virtually extinguished under the pressure and rules of the penal system. Gender issues and the official suppression of sexuality within the penitentiary system constituted a further aspect of my study.’ But the photographs are utterly compelling, and reminded me strongly of the women interviewed for my previous research with women incarcerated in Russia.

The other is a more contemporary piece which draws attention to an extraordinary 20 year ban on prisoners’ access to their own images in solitary confinement in California. Prisoners were banned from access to portrait images of themselves, despite the importance to families of tangible images of their loved ones – because photographs were apparently seen as potential ‘calling cards’ —” circulated by prison gang leaders — both to advise other members that they’re still in charge and to pass on orders.” The ban was eventually lifted in 2011, and in the article on which the post is based, the author Michael Montgomery quotes Sean Kernan, the former Under-Secretary of the CDCR “I think we were wrong, and I think (that) to this day,” he said. “How right is it to have an offender who is behaving … (and) to not be able to take a photo to send to his loved ones for 20 years?” Kernan directed prison staff to ease the restrictions for inmates who were free of any disciplinary violations.

As Montgomery points out, lack of access to images of themselves, a situation accentuated by the lack of mirrors in many cells, means that prisoners’ sense of identity is limited: “Some inmates complained to relatives of losing a sense of their own identity, even their own physical features. In addition to the photo ban, inmates at Pelican Bay do not have mirrors in their cells. “My brother tells me that sometimes he forgets how he looks. He doesn’t remember how he looks,” said Sylvia Rogokos of Los Angeles. Her brother, Frank Reyna, 51, was sent to Pelican Bay in 1992.”

Whilst lifting the ban is a major step forward, particularly for the prisoners’ families [“Seeing an image of their incarcerated relative for the first time in years has sparked renewed hope and revived dormant family connections. For others, the photographs are a shocking reminder of the length of time some inmates have been held in isolation.”]there is still a question of the use of prisoners’ images beyond the prison and their families. As Pete Brooks of Prison Photography points out, ‘in light of recent art market fetishism, it would seem the primary reason anyone would want to gather prison portraits would be to repeat Harper’s Books’ $45,000 hustle and cash in on the images’ He is referring to the recent sale of a collection of California prison polaroids – the ‘anonymous and previously unheard-of collection The Los Angeles Gang and Prison Photo Archive’ with an asking price of $45,000. As the post suggests, ‘if these images deserve a $45,000 price tag, they deserve a vast amount of research to uncover the stories behind them.’

Which brings us back to Olga Chagaoutdinova’s collection, where the images are evidently underpinned by discussion of the very issues raised by the portrait ban in California.

In any case, for those interested in prison images, Prison Photography is a superb resource with informed and thoughtful commentary. Take a look.

Terrferme Conference “Confinement viewed through the prism of the social sciences: Contrasting facilities, confronting approaches”

The programme for the Terrferme 2013 conference “Confinement viewed through the prism of the social sciences: Contrasting facilities, confronting approaches.” has been released (conference details here) and the line-up suggests that this will be a fascinating event opening a space for diverse, international discussion of confinement.

I was honoured to be invited to join the scientific committee of the conference, and to provide some comment on one of the sessions, and I look forward to seeing everyone in Pessac in October!

Registration online before 16 October 2013 at

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Opening speech: Denis Retaillé (Director of the Adess Research Centre); Michel Pernod (Vice Director of the Bordeaux 3 University Scientific Council)

Screening of the film A l’ombre de la République (In the shadow of the Republique, french version with English subtitle) and debate with the film-maker Stephane Mercurio

Thursday 17 October 2013

Introduction to the Conference: Bénédicte Michalon, Djemila Zeneidi (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

Sarah Curtis (Durham University) ‘Compassionate containment’? Balancing technical safety and therapy in the design of psychiatric wards 

Le continuum carceral / The Carceral Continuum

Chair :      Olivier Milhaud (ENeC, Cnrs/Univ. Paris IV)

  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore (City University of New York) Partition: Devolution, Realignment, and Challenge
  • Emmanuel Chauvin, Marie Morelle (Prodig, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 1) Des prisons et des camps de réfugiés : des modèles d’enfermement au service de la gestion des territoires ? / Managing territories through confinement? Prisons and refugee camps in Chad and Cameroon
  • Nathalie Bernardie-Tahir (Geolab, Cnrs/Univ. de Limoges,), Camille Schmoll (GeographieCités, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 7,) Enfermer les migrants indésirables : les échelles de l’enfermement en contexte insulaire (Malte) / Enclose unwanted migrants: scales of confinement in an island context (Malta)
  • Mahuya Bandyopadhyay (Univ. of Delhi) Confinement, Control and Resistance beyond the Carceral: Exploring Prison Para Connections
  • Lucie Bony (Lavue, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 10) L’incarcération dans les trajectoires individuelles : comment le passé résidentiel agit-il sur les manières d’habiter et de cohabiter en prison? / Incarceration and biographical trajectories: how does the residential past influence the way to live and coexist in prison?

Comments and Discussion: Georg Glasze (Univ. Erlangen-Nürnberg), Olivier Milhaud (ENeC, Cnrs/Univ. Paris IV)

Espace et pouvoir / Space and Power

Chair :      Marie Morelle (Prodig, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 1)

  • Kelly Gillepsie (Univ. Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) A post-apartheid prison? / Une prison post-apartheid?
  • Barbara Bauduin (Univ. Grenoble, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin), Nicolas Fischer (Cesdip, Cnrs/Univ. Versailles – Saint Quentin en Yvelines) Retenir sans détenir : jeux et enjeux d’architecture / Detention without Punishment: Issues and debates on administrative confinement architectures
  • Marine Bobin (Lisst, Cnrs/Univ. Toulouse Le Mirail,) Construire des prisons chez les Navajos : vers une « indigénisation » de la prison / Building jails in Navajo territory: toward an “indigenous” prison?
  • Alain Morice (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 7) Le confinement des travailleurs saisonniers étrangers en Europe: propositions pour un modèle comparative / Confining seasonal workers through accommodation: some proposals to a comparative model in the European countries

Comments and Discussion : Olivier Razac (Ecole Nationale de l’Administration Pénitentiaire, Agen)

Chair :      Camille Lancelevée (Iris, EHESS, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

  • Fleur Guy (Evs, Cnrs/Univ. Lyon 2,) De la porte ouverte aux barbelés, usages de la contrainte spatiale dans les foyers de placement pour adolescents / From open doors to barbed wire: the use of spatial constraints in teenage foster institutions
  • Lilian Ayete-Nyampong (Wageningen Univ.) Underlife of a total institution: Ethnography of confinement sites in Ghana for juvenile and young offenders / La vie clandestine d’une institution totale : ethnographie de lieux d’enfermement pour adolescents et jeunes délinquants au Ghana
  • Anna Schliehe (Univ. of Glasgow) Re-discovering Goffman : Contemporary carceral geography and the ‘total’ institution / Re-découvrir Goffman : la géographie carcérale contemporaine et l’institution « totale »

Comments and Discussion : André-Frédéric Hoyaux (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

Friday 18 October 2013

Pluralité des acteurs de l’enfermement et mise en tension des institutions / Institutions facing the diversity of the actors of confinement

Professionals in confinement settings

Chair :      Mathilde Darley (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

  • Nicolas Sallée (Univ. Paris Ouest) Au bord de l’incarcération. Les éducateurs de la Protection Judiciaire de la Jeunesse à l’épreuve de leur intervention en centres éducatifs fermés / At the Edge of the Prison. A Study of Educational Practices in French Juvenile Closed Centres
  • Arnaud Frauenfelder (Univ. of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland, Genève), Eva Nada (Univ. Neuchatel), Géraldine Bugnon (Univ. Genève) « Pluridisciplinarité et ouverture sur l’extérieur » : des agents d’encadrement à l’épreuve d’une réforme d’une prison pour mineurs / “Multidisciplinarity and outward orientation”: managerial staff challenged by juvenile prison reform
  • Camille Lancelevée (Iris, EHESS Paris, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin) Quand la prison annexe l’hôpital ? La place des soins psychiatriques en milieu pénitentiaire en France / When prison encroaches upon hospital? Psychiatric care in the French prison system
  • Adelaïde Bargeau (Sage, Cnrs/Univ. de Strasbourg,) La réforme de la garde à vue : la fin du « huis clos policier » ? / The Effects of the French Police Custody Reform on Interrogation Conditions

Comments and Discussion : Gilles Chantraine (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1), Mathilde Darley (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

(Dé)construire l’ordre / (De)constructing Order

Chair :      Gilles Chantraine (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1)

  • Yasmine Bouagga (IRIS, EHESS Paris) Le droit à la conquête des territoires d’enfermement ? Questions sur de paradoxales circulations et usages du droit dans les lieux de privation de liberté, à partir du cas de la prison / Can legal rights conquer places of confinement? Questions on paradoxal circulations and uses of law in prison
  • Benoît Eyraud (Centre Max Weber, Cnrs/Univ. Lyon2,), Livia Velpry (Univ. Paris 8) Malades difficiles et détenus souffrants : différences et similarités du rôle de l’enfermement dans le soin psychiatrique specialise / Difficult patients and suffering prisoners. The role of confinement in specialized psychiatric care
  • Fabrice Fernandez (IRIS, EHESS Paris) Humaniser la sanction ? Le traitement carcéral de l’indiscipline / Humanizing punishment? The carceral treatment of indiscipline
  • Grégory Salle (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1) La marchandisation de la gestion carcérale en France et en Allemagne : esquisse de généalogie compare / Can we speak of a commodification of European prison systems? France and Germany compared

Comments and Discussion : Carolina Kobelinsky (St Antony’s College, Univ. of Oxford)

Des institutions face aux transferts de normes  / Institutions and the circulation of standards

Chair :      Carolina Kobelinsky (St Antony’s College, Univ. of Oxford)

  • Helga Zichner (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography Leipzig), Bettina Bruns (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography Leipzig) The standards of confinement in the Western Newly Independent States (WNIS) – an aspect of the EU immigration policy in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova / Les normes de l’enfermement dans les Nouveaux Etats Indépendants Occidentaux – Un aspect de la politique migratoire de l’UE en Biélorussie, Ukraine et Moldavie
  • Andrew M. Jefferson (Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen) Surviving Philippine Prisons – an account of entangled encounters / Survivre dans les prisons philippines : des relations entrecroisées

Comments and Discussion :  Djemila Zeneidi (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

L’enfermement à l’épreuve des inégalités. Production de l’altérité et assignations identitaires / Confinement and Inequality. Production of Otherness and Identity assignements

Chair : Tristan Bruslé (Centre d’Etudes Himalayennes, Cnrs)

  • Jérémie Gauthier (Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin) Contrôler, vérifier et garder à vue. Effets sociaux des pratiques policières d’immobilisation et d’enfermement / Check, search and custody measures. Social effects of law enforcement practices
  • Elise Roche (Evs, Cnrs/Insa de Lyon,) Construire contre l’enfermement. Le village d’insertion Rom : l’hébergement au risque des logiques carcérales / Building against confinement: the case of Roma people’s shelters
  • Camille Boutron (Ifea Lima, Ird) Incarcération politique et trajectoires militantes féminines. L’espace carcéral comme enjeu de contrôle social et de mobilisation politique des femmes au Pérou (1980 – 2010) / Political incarceration and female combatant careers. Prison space as a challenge for the social control and the political mobilization of Peruvian women (1980- 2010)
  • Louise Tassin (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Nice) Le clandestin tunisien et le réfugié africain. Catégories et discriminations dans le centre fermé de Lampedusa (Italie) / The undocumented Tunisian and the African refugee. Categories and discriminations in the detention center of Lampedusa(Italy)
  • Aurore Mottet (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Nice) Rapports interethniques en situation d’enfermement : le « penser ethnique » des organisations humanitaires. / Ethnic relations in confinement: the “ethnic-thinking” of humanitarian associations
  • Guillaume Le Blanc (Univ. Bordeaux 3) Migrants indésirables / Unwanted migrants

Comments and Discussion : Andrew M. Jefferson (Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen), Tristan Bruslé (Centre d’Etudes Himalayennes, Cnrs)

Saturday 17 October 2013

Mobilités et enfermement / Mobilities and confinement

Chair : Olivier Clochard (Migrinter, Cnrs/Univ. Poitiers)

  • Lauren Martin (Univ. of Oulu, Finland) Detention and the Production of Migrant Precarity / Rétention et précarisation du migrant
  • Stéphanie Latte-Abdallah (Iremam, Cnrs/Univ. Aix-Marseille) Entre la prison. Incarcération politique, porosités et mobilités en Palestine après 2000 / Prison: in and out. Political Incarceration, porosity and mobility in Palestine after 2000
  • David Scheer (Université Libre de Bruxelles) Circulations internes en établissement pénitentiaire : à la recherche du disciplinaire manqué ? / Internal flows in prison: the quest to the missed discipline?
  • Caroline Touraut (Centre Max Weber Lyon, Ined) Trajectoires et mobilités des détenus âgés en France / Old prisoners’ constrained mobility. The case of French prisons

Comments and Discussion : Dominique Moran (Univ. of Birmingham), Olivier Clochard (Migrinter, Cnrs/Univ. Poitiers)

Lorna Rhodes (Univ. of Washington, Seattle) Thinking through the institutional interior / Penser l’intérieur de l’institution

Concluding discussion

Research Fellow position on ESRC project

University of Birmingham

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences 8-2754esrc-logo

Research Fellow in Prison Visitation and Reoffending

Salary from £27,578 to £38,140 a year

We are looking to recruit a post-doctoral researcher to work on a cutting-edge ESRC-funded Project, Breaking the Cycle? Prison Visitation and Recidivism in the UK. This project seeks to enhance understanding of the relationship between prison visitation and reoffending in the UK, to explore the experience of prison visitation for prisoners, visitors and prison personnel, providing a new perspective on visitation, and paying particular attention to its socio-spatial context. The 2.5 year post facilitates work across the academic disciplines of geography, psychology and criminology, and the post holder will work closely with key stakeholders to integrate findings into policy development, with a view to increasing the effectiveness of visitation in assisting positive post-release outcomes. HMP Hewell will be the primary case study and the researcher will be based at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, at the University of Birmingham, also working closely with the School of Psychology.

We are looking for a person with excellent qualitative research skills; preference will be given to candidates with experience of qualitative or ethnographic research within prisons, with prisoners, their friends and families, and with prison personnel. The successful candidate will also be required to undertake some quantitative research, with guidance from the investigators and project partners, and will have the opportunity to undertake training in psychological research methods as appropriate. A PhD or equivalent is essential, with candidates from criminology, geography, psychology, and social science backgrounds being considered. In addition to collecting data, the post holder will be expected to play a substantial role in determining the priorities for research, data analysis, writing and presenting findings.

For more information, please contact Dominique Moran