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.