Scarman Lecture: Yvonne Jewkes – How ‘super’ are the new, super-sized prisons? Building a better future for prisoners Wed 30 Sept

How ‘super’ are the new, super-sized prisons? Building a better future for prisoners

Professor Yvonne Jewkes: Wednesday 30 September, 5-7pm, University of Leicester

With new, giant prisons being built to house up to 2,500 inmates and the prison population at 86,000, there arguably has never been a more important time to study prisons and punishment. Why is society’s cultural attachment to the prison seemingly unshakeable? Why does the prison population appear to rise unabated, despite falling recorded crime rates? Are new, modern prisons more effective and more efficient than the old Victorian gaols? What changes have we seen in terms of the types of offenders being sentenced to custody? And what are the most pressing challenges facing the Prison Service?

In this first Scarman Lecture of 2015/16, Professor Yvonne Jewkes, will address these questions, drawing on data from her current research, including a major three-year ESRC-funded study of prison architecture, design and technology.

This free lecture is open to graduates, students, staff and members of the public

For more information, click here

Carceral Repurposing: Redesigning a Prison Town, and ‘Flipping a Prison’ into Townhouses

Fascinating piece by Anna Clark on the reuse and repurposing of prisons, and the shaping of identities of US prison towns faced with the possible closure of facilities.

“How do you detach a community from its dependency on the prison economy, without doing undue harm to local citizens? Is it even possible to wholly extract these forbidding fortresses from their intended purpose? After all, they were designed to be a place that nobody wants to be in. Puzzling out a way to find a new use, especially in rural areas and small towns, is a critical challenge for 21st-century planners.”

At the same time, The Navy Greene development in Brooklyn, New York, sees a 104,600-square-foot property on the site of a former federal prison, now being sold as high-end private residences. Even though the original prison building is gone, media coverage highlights the carceral past of the site, apparently as a selling point: “Former Prison Cells in Brooklyn Flipped Into $2 Million Townhouses. What a difference 20 years and a yuppie takeover can make.”

Thought-provoking articles for carceral geographers interested in the post-prison, and in the different post-functional existences possible for former prisons, or their sites.

Extending the reach of the carceral?

A recent piece in The Guardian discusses “a new form of spatial control order… being introduced throughout England and Wales that severely limits citizens’ freedoms within the city”.

In the UK, Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, came into existence last year under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Similar to anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), they allow the criminalisation of behaviour that is not normally considered “criminal”. But where ASBOs were “directed at individuals, PSPOs are geographically defined, making predefined activities within a mapped area prosecutable.”

The Guardian piece goes on to discuss the ways in which PSPOs can be targeted directly at particular groups or activities, in specific geographical locations, such as a particular tower block in Oxford from which under21s are banned, and the discussion of a PSPO in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea that would make driving loud cars an offence, apparently targeted at rich foreigners cruising the area in Maseratis and Lamborghinis.

These PSPOs could be regarded as an example of the extended reach of the carceral state beyond the conventional spaces of punishment. This notion of the extended reach of the carceral state is by no means novel – recent reductions in the US prison population, for example, are argued to have been counterbalanced by community supervision measures which act to reproduce elements of carceral control beyond the traditional boundaries of the prison. As Phelps (2013, 52) noted, “Propelled by state budget crises and a shift in the politics of punishment,…declines in [US] incarceration are the result of a flurry of reform efforts, including revised criminal codes and sentencing guidelines, expanded prison alternative programs, and improved community supervision policies”, which divert otherwise prison-bound cases into noncustodial options, most commonly probation supervision.

Nuancing this understanding of probation as framed or intended as a prison alternative, whilst in practice operating as a “net-widener” for social control, Phelps found that probation both widened the net and acted as an alternative, “to varying degrees across time and place” (p51).

For carceral geographers, the fact that the extension of carceral control beyond the prison might vary in time and place chimes with much existing discussion of carceral spaces, premised on a notion of the ‘carceral’ as a social construction existing both within and separate from the physical spaces of incarceration; a notion which aligns with the conceptual framework of the ‘carceral turn’ as described by Brown (2014, 178), addressing ‘human experiences and social practices that involve systems of confinement [which] differ from those that a sociology of punishment can or perhaps should address’. Carceral geography concerns itself with (experiences of) spaces of confinement very broadly conceived and operating at every scale from the global to the personal. ‘Incarceration’ has conventionally come to refer to the legal confinement of sentenced offenders under the jurisdiction of the state, rather than to the myriad ways in which persons could be, and indeed are, confined by other means (such as unlawful imprisonment, kidnap, abduction, curfew, grounding), or indeed the means by which people could confine themselves (phobias, cultural practices, competing gang territories and so on). However, whilst appreciating that these circumstances differ dramatically from each other, taking this more lateral approach enables carceral geography to interpret the ‘carceral’ as not necessarily limited to state-sanctioned legal imprisonment. Whilst including the conventional spaces of incarceration which hold sentenced prisoners; it also encompasses the spaces of detention of refugees, noncitizens, asylum seekers, the trafficked and the renditioned, as well as ‘forms of confinement that burst internment structures and deliver carceral effects without physical immobilization’ (Moran et al 2013, 240, my emphasis), such as electronic monitoring, surveillance and securitized public spaces; and also the much more personal and nuanced forms of confinement which manifest themselves in mobile notions of the carceral inscribed upon the individual, such as embodied stigma and corporeal practices which recall previous (conventional) incarceration.

This notion of the extension of the reach of the carceral has figured in recent discussions, for example at the 2015 AAG in Chicago, for example through Tony Sparks’ paper on the expansion of spaces of care and rehabilitation for persons with mental health problems. He found that geographies of service provision and the requirements of the court produce a “community” that is both legally mandated and highly circumscribed; community becoming an extension of carceral space in which failure to successfully navigate these spaces on a daily basis carries the threat of remand, expulsion from the program and often extended jail time. Similarly, Stephen Averill Sherman discussed US states’ sentence enhancement zone laws, which deliver increased penalties for drug-related criminal offenses within a certain perimeter, arguably disproportionately punishing urban and minority populations and expanding the “carceral mesh” (Wacquant, 2003). Using GIS techniques to map these specific zones, he showed that sentencing policy analysis could expand discussions of what constitutes carceral space. Elsewhere, geographers have considered the ways in which an element of the carceral may adhere to the body of the former prisoner after release from custody (Moran 2012, 2014). In these ways, carceral geography contributes to an understanding of the carceral subject which ‘complicates and exceeds categories of criminality, penality and victimhood’ (Brown 2014, 178).

The recent media discussion of PSPOs brings these issues into focus, and there is scope for further discussion to inform geographical understandings of the carceral, and if, how and at which scale(s) it is spatially bounded. A recent Call for Papers for the next AAG in 2016 in San Francisco, addresses this question, inviting contributions which explore theorisations of the carceral, unlawful imprisonment, kidnap, abduction, curfew, grounding, electronic monitoring, surveillance and securitized public spaces, personal and nuanced forms of confinement, mobile notions of the carceral inscribed upon the individual,embodied stigma and corporeal practices which recall previous (conventional) incarceration, and other conceptualisations of the carceral.

New papers for carceral geographers

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to review some terrific scholarship recently. Thought-provoking, incisive, troubling and reflective work which I’m excited to see in print. It’s fascinating to see the ways in which geographers are drawing on criminological work, and vice versa – much in the spirit of the conversation we had last week at the European Society of Criminology conference in Porto, Portugal, in which Yvonne Jewkes chaired a roundtable session to which I contributed alongside Marie Hutton, Jen Turner, Anna Schliehe and Andrew Wooff. We’d hoped to be joined by Ben Crewe and Thomas Ugelvik but unfortunately complex conference scheduling got in the way. In any case, there was lively discussion of the different approaches (methodological, theoretical, political – both with a large and a small ‘p’) taken by carceral geographers, criminologists, prison sociologists and ethnographers, and new connections were made.

So in the spirit of that communication, (albeit without the Portuguese sunshine, back in overcast Birmingham), I wanted to share links to some recently published papers that I’ve really enjoyed reading.

Posing in Prison: Family Photographs, Emotional Labor, and Carceral Intimacy Nicole Fleetwood : Abstract : “Posing in Prison” examines vernacular photography and studio portraiture taken inside US prisons through an investigation of the production practices and the circulation of these images in and out of prisons. The photographs include images that document family visits to incarcerated relatives and portraits taken by incarcerated photographers in makeshift studios designed in prison. The article considers how such photographs function as practices of intimacy and belonging for those imprisoned and their loved ones.

This paper really struck a chord with me, as I’m involved in a research project about prison visitation right now (see job ad!) and grappling with what ‘intimacy’ means in this setting, and how it is expressed. Nicole Fleetwood’s paper also reminded me of Alyse Emdur’s Prison Landscapes collection of photographs of prison inmates representing themselves in front of visiting room backdrops. She writes: “Such backdrops, often painted by talented inmates, are used within the prisons as portrait studios. As inmates and their visitors pose for photos in front of these idealized landscapes they pretend, for a brief moment, that they are someplace else. The photographs are given to these visitors as gifts to take home and remember the faces of their loved ones while they are incarcerated. Prison Landscapes explores this little known and largely physically inaccessible genre of painting and portraiture seen only by inmates, visitors, and prison employees. Created specifically for escape and self-representation, the idealized paintings of tropical beaches, fantastical waterfalls, mountain vistas, and cityscapes invite sitters to perform fantasies of freedom.”

The Rise of a More Punitive State: On the Attenuation of Norwegian Penal Exceptionalism in an Era of Welfare State Transformation Victor L. Shammas : Abstract : While sociologists of punishment have been interested in the notion of Nordic penal exceptionalism, rapid changes are taking place in the penal policies of one of the members of the Nordic zone. Norway’s penal state is growing increasingly punitive, and penal exceptionalism appears to be on the wane, evidenced by a growing incarceration rate, increasingly punitive sentiments in the population, moral panics over street crime, raised sentencing levels, the forcible detention and extradition of asylum seekers, punitive drug policies, and the creation of segregated correctional facilities for stigmatized foreign offenders. Penal transformation should be understood as the outcome of symbolic contestation between politicians eager to present themselves as “tough on crime,” increasing differentiation of the social structure that has led to the declining fortunes of rehabilitationism, and a nascent neoliberalization of the welfare state. As a consequence, Europe’s penal landscape may be growing more homogeneous.

A cautionary tale for these troubled times.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Delaware Prison Reform and the Urban Landscape, 1961-1977 Yohuru Williams : Abstract : In the midst of several well publicized prison scandals, numerous lawsuits and a mass of studies revealing the squalid nature of U.S. prisons, in the early 1960s and 1970s Delaware was one of a handful of states experimenting with fresh alternatives to incarceration utilizing urban space. The leader of these reform efforts was Paul Keve, acting Delaware Commissioner of Corrections. Keve’s ambitious program was to be anchored in the state’s two largest cities, Wilmington and Dover, where he hoped to use the opportunities afforded by the urban landscape to facilitate and enhance his program of rehabilitation. Keve’s program, however, met with crushing opposition from Delaware’s two rural southern counties who controlled the state legislature. This essay examines the tumultuous history of the period by looking at the state as a microcosm of the nation and how heated discourse over prison reform intersected with the battle to control urban space and how issues of race and Delaware’s political geography ultimately defeated prison reform.

Having recently worked with Karen Morin to put together an edited collection on historical carceral geographies, I found this paper really fascinating, and it reminded me both of Jack Norton’s 2014 AAG paper and subsequent chapter in that collection, and also of Judah Schept’s piece which contrasted a local community’s critique of mass incarceration with its support for local carceral expansion.

A recent special issue of Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History on “The Soviet Gulag: New Research and New Interpretations” is also worth a look. The Editors note that : “This special issue… goes to press at a particular moment, at once promising and troubling. In the first instance, it comes at a time when scholarship on the Soviet camp system, which began to grow relatively slowly after the opening of the former Soviet archives, is now gaining a weight and synergy never before achieved…. The title of this special issue is intended to underscore how the new empirical work presented here, as well as the growing number of important recent works, goes hand in hand with a broader reconceptualization of the nature of the Gulag and its role in the Soviet system.”

Power in motion: Tracking time, space, and movement in the British Penal Estate – Luca Follis : Abstract: This paper tracks the impact of prison transfers (and mobility considerations more generally) on the spatio-temporal regimes pursued within the British Penal Estate. I argue that what appear from outside as static spaces of detention are in fact nodes within a network deeply crisscrossed by internal patterns of mobility and the problematics of time–space coordination. I explore the power relations that shape prisoner patterns of movement and highlight the distinctive states of deprivation they generate.

Having had a longstanding interest in the mobilities inherent in the apparent stasis of imprisonment, and working at present at one of the prisons mentioned, I found this an fascinating and enlightening read. Luca Follis describes “the institutional scaffolding that supports and drives the penal estate’s transportation system which is characterized by two countervailing approaches to prisoner transfers (a top-down, instrumental application of prisoner movement pursued alongside and against an embodied, progressive system of prisoner mobility)” (p3), which see the need to displace prisoners in order to accommodate new committals, or the arrival of other prisoners displaced by overcrowding elsewhere, disrupting the intended movements of prisoners through the carceral estate to undertake the programmes of training and rehabilitation to which they are entitled.

With these papers in hand, and Judah Schept’s new book out soon, I’m excited to welcome the new cohort of final year undergraduates taking carceral geography at Birmingham this academic year…

Job at the University of Birmingham: Research Fellow on ESRC project – Prison Visitation and Recidivism

I am advertising for a Research Fellow to join the research team for the ESRC-funded project ‘Breaking the Cycle: Prison Visitation and Recidivism in the UK’. It’s a short contract, to start asap, so that the post-holder can work alongside Marie Hutton before she departs for a Lecturing position.

The role of the Research Fellow would be to create and contribute to the creation of knowledge by undertaking a specified range of activities within a specific research project that aims to examine the links between prison visitation and reoffending. The post holder would be primarily responsible for interviews with domestic visitors to a prison facility.

Full details are here – note that due to a quirk in the system you may need to click on this link twice – the first click will take you to a search engine.

Informal enquiries are welcome – to me at

Closing date is 20th September