Fully funded ESRC PhD studentship in Carceral Geography

Fully funded ESRC PhD Studentship8-2754esrc-logo

The role of prison architecture and aesthetics in the relationship between prisons and host communities.

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES), University of Birmingham, UK

Supervisors: Dr Dominique Moran, Senior Lecturer in Human and Carceral Geography (GEES) and (externally) Prof. Yvonne Jewkes (Department of Criminology, University of Leicester).

Applications are invited for the above studentship commencing 1st January 2014. This is an ESRC-funded grant-linked studentship which provides a stipend of £13,726 p.a. plus tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for up to three years (full-time only). Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is open to UK and EU applicants only.

About the main project and grant-linked studentship:

The UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have made an award for a research project entitled “‘Fear-suffused environments’ or potential to rehabilitate? Prison architecture, design and technology and the lived experience of carceral spaces”. The project investigators, Professor Yvonne Jewkes (University of Leicester, UK) and Dr Dominique Moran (University of Birmingham, UK), will be addressing two over-arching questions – how are penal aims and philosophies (that is, what prison is ‘for’) expressed in prison architecture and design, and how effective is prison architecture, design and technology (ADT) in conveying and delivering that penal purpose? The study seeks to meet its objectives by (a) studying the process of designing new prison buildings in order to understand what it is that architects are asked to deliver and how they achieve this, and (b) studying ADT’s impacts and effects on a range of end users, focusing on the experience of occupying and moving in and around prison spaces, in relation to prisoners’ quality of life and wellbeing, perceptions of penal legitimacy, compliance with the regime, prisoner-staff relations, staff work satisfaction and so on. The project will focus on two newly built UK prisons, and contrast these with two prisons in Norway and Denmark, where penal philosophies differ greatly from those in the UK.

The grant-linked studentship

The main research project asks what impact the architecture, design, and spatial organization of prisons has on the experience of imprisonment, on the behaviour of those who occupy and move through carceral spaces, and on staff-prisoner and staff-management relationships. The PhD studentship extends the reach of this question to a new and different group – members of local communities which surround prisons. It is premised on a understanding that, despite the wealth of research on local responses to proposed prison building projects, the impact of prisons on local economic development, and the “NIMBY” response, the specific impact of prison architecture and aesthetics on those who live within the immediate vicinity of prisons is not known.

Context and Research Design

The studentship will draw upon existing research within both criminology and carceral geography on prison siting and the relationships between prisons and local communities. Although this literature has tended to focus on the traditional opposition of communities to location of prisons close by, (based on local residents’ concerns that a prison may lower property values, increase levels of crime, endanger their safety through escapes, attract ‘undesirable’ elements and damage the reputation of the area), there is increasingly an alternative perspective, of the generation of ‘profit through punishment’. In more recent work, demand for the building of prisons to stimulate local economic development and employment has been identified, especially on the part of small rural towns in the United States, with a shift towards policymakers actively locating prisons in ‘lagging’ communities. This recent work has drawn attention to the lack of structural economic change in persistently poor rural places, and prison facilities’ inability to foster economy-wide change in terms of serving as an economic development initiative. However, in focusing on structural economic change associated with prison siting, it has been unable to tackle questions about the response of local communities to the aesthetic appearance of the prisons themselves, and the importance of prison architecture in the ‘acceptance’ of prison siting close to existing communities. There are grounds to suggest that the aesthetic appearance of prisons is of considerable, yet under-explored, importance for local residents.

The PhD studentship will build upon existing work by contributing to the growing international debate on prison siting using examples from the UK context, and it will complement the main project by investigating the architectural consequences of the transformations in UK prison architecture on the communities which surround prisons.

Career development

Given the interdisciplinary nature of the main project, and of the supervisory team for the PhD project, along with postgraduate training in research methods and transferable and employable skills, this PhD studentship would enable the successful candidate to build an academic and professional CV which would enable them to pursue an academic research career in a range of disciplinary areas. There would be opportunities for joint publication with the supervisory team of main project co-I and PI, as well as opportunities to develop networking skills through participation in dissemination and impact activities, and to contribute to the main project website, www.prisonspaces.com, as appropriate. At Birmingham, the successful candidate would join a thriving Postgraduate Research community in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and would be part of the Birmingham Community and Criminal Justice Group – the University’s very wide-ranging criminology scholarship network.


Applicants will have a good first degree in a relevant social science discipline. An MSc/MA postgraduate degree in a related field is also highly desirable. Applicants should have excellent oral and written presentation skills, and experience with qualitative research methods.


The closing date for applications is 30th September 2013. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview, to take place soon after the closing date for applications.

To apply, please contact Dr Dominique Moran (d.moran@bham.ac.uk).

New ESRC-funded research project: “‘Fear-suffused environments’ or potential to rehabilitate?”

8-2754esrc-logoThe UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have made an award of £728k for a research project entitled “‘Fear-suffused environments’ or potential to rehabilitate?  Prison architecture, design and technology and the lived experience of carceral spaces”. The project investigators, Professor Yvonne Jewkes (University of Leicester, UK) and Dr Dominique Moran (University of Birmingham, UK), will be addressing two over-arching questions – how are penal aims and philosophies (that is, what prison is ‘for’) expressed in prison architecture and design, and how effective is prison architecture, design and technology (ADT) in conveying and delivering that penal purpose? The study seeks to meet its objectives by (a) studying the process of designing new prison buildings in order to understand what it is that architects are asked to deliver and how they achieve this, and (b) studying ADT’s impacts and effects on a range of end users, focusing on the experience of occupying and moving in and around prison spaces, in relation to prisoners’ quality of life and wellbeing, perceptions of penal legitimacy, compliance with the regime, prisoner-staff relations, staff work satisfaction and so on. The project will focus on two newly built UK prisons, and contrast these with two prisons in Norway and Denmark, where penal philosophies differ greatly from those in the UK.

The project will provide funding for a Postdoctoral Research Assistant, based at the Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, and for a PhD studentship at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, both to start in January 2014. Ads for these two positions will be posted soon – watch this space.

New book: “Carceral Spaces: Mobility and Agency in Imprisonment and Migrant Detention”

‘Carceral Spaces: Mobility and Agency in Imprisonment and Migrant Detention‘ (Ashgate, 2013) edited by Dominique Moran, Nick Gill and Deirdre Conlon.moran_gen 55 cover.QXD_mobility and agency

This book draws together the work of a new community of scholars with a growing interest in carceral geography: the geographical study of practices of imprisonment and detention. It combines work by geographers in ‘mainstream’ penal establishments that incarcerate people convicted of a crime by the prevailing legal system, with geographers’ recent work on migrant detention centres, in which refused asylum seekers, irregular migrants and some others are detained, ostensibly pending decisions on admittance or repatriation. In each of these contexts, contributions investigate the geographical location and spatialities of institutions, the nature of spaces of incarceration and detention and experiences inside them, governmentality and prisoner agency, cultural geographies of penal spaces, and mobility in the carceral context. In dialogue with emergent and topical agendas in geography around mobility, space and agency, and in relation to international policy challenges such as the (dis)functionality of imprisonment, and the search for alternatives to detention, the book draws upon and speaks back to geography, criminology and prison sociology.

The book presents original empirical research from the USA, Colombia, Russia, France, the UK, Ireland and Romania, bringing together papers initially presented for themed sessions organised at the Annual Conference of the AAG in Washington, DC, USA and the Annual Conference of the RGS-IBG in London, UK, both in 2010. Apart from the editors, contributors include Lauren L Martin, Matt Mitchelson, Olivier MilhaudBénédicte Michalon, Julie De Dardel, Jennifer Turner, Nancy Hiemstra and Mason McWatters, with reflective pieces from Alison Mountz and Yvonne Jewkes.  The broad conceptual focus and wide geographic net is consistent with the goals of sparking insight, dialogue and new connections across ordinarily distinct areas.

This book was published last month and launched at the 2013 Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, in a roundtable session featuring editors and contributors. It’s available for purchase via Ashgate and Amazon.


‘From Nick Gill’s eye-opening discussion of the relationship between freedom and mobility, to Deirdre Conlon’s fascinating Foucauldian analysis of the hunger strike, this book offers analyses that are empirically strong and theoretically innovative. From a criminological perspective, the book manages chapter by chapter to break new ground even in a familiar territory. You should read it.’
Thomas Ugelvik, University of Oslo, Norway

‘Engaging, thought-provoking and insightful, Carceral Spaces shines a much-needed light on contemporary practices of incarceration and detention. Required reading for anyone interested in confinement and the control of ‘problematic’ populations in a globalised world.’
Alexandra Hall, University of York, UK and author of Borderwatch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control

‘Prisons and immigration detention facilities ostensibly draw sharp divisions between who is inside and who is outside, who is good and who is bad, who is included and who is excluded from society. Contributors to this important volume undermine these dualisms with rich empirical evidence and strong theoretical elaboration that advance the burgeoning field of carceral geography, and offer fresh perspectives to migration studies and criminologists’ study of “punishment and society”. Carceral Spaces gathers original research on prison regimes and immigration detention estates from an impressive array of sites. This comparative dimension illustrates the international unevenness of spatial practices of confinement. Despite their differences, all carceral regimes create and rely on carceral spaces and carceral mobilities. Indeed, close attention to the relationship between the state’s power to confine and to forcibly move people is the book’s greatest strength. Together, they challenge the idea that prison cells fully extinguish political agency and that mobility necessarily means total freedom. Instead, careful documentation and nuanced theorization of this relationship offers scholars and activists new understandings of state power. This knowledge hopefully can enable people who are confined and their allies to end carceral regimes and the harms they create’. 
Jenna Loyd, co-editor of Beyond Walls and Cages

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.

Funded PhD studentship: “The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960”

The School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester is offering a PhD studentship package for research on the Russian island of Sakhalin as part of a €1.5 million European Research Council grant for the project ‘The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960’.

This project will take a case study and comparative approach to the history of imperial expansion, unfree labour, confinement, and their legacies through a focus on the history of penal colonies all over the world.

Full details can be found at: http://www2.le.ac.uk/study/research/funding/carceral-archipelago . Please note that the closing date for applications is 8 March 2013.

ESRC PhD studentship: Technical Justice: Examining Video-Linking in Immigration Courts

ESRC PhD studentship: Technical Justice: Examining Video-Linking in Immigration Courts

The College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter is pleased to offer a PhD studentship funded by the ESRC for entry in 2013/14. Successful applicants will be based within Geography (Streatham Campus, Exeter) at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter.


Dr Nick Gill n.m.gill@exeter.ac.uk

Project Description

Video-linking was introduced in 2008 in the UK to allow for speedier determination of asylum appeals, as well as bail hearings for asylum seekers held in detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, video-linking works as follows: “If you are detained it may be possible that your case will be heard by video link. This means that you will remain in your place of detention and give any evidence that you have to give by video link. You will be able to see and hear the hearing room and all the parties on a television where you are detained, and everyone in the hearing room will be able to see and hear you on a television there” (Ministry of Justice webpage, October 2011).

The use of video-linking is justified partly in terms of the time saved: judges, representatives and applicants do not have to travel as far. There have been, however, a series of concerns raised by asylum support groups about the use of video-linking in courts including concerns relating to the adequacy of this form of presence in the courtroom.

This is a fully funded PhD position to run alongside the ESRC project ‘Examining Geographic Disparities in Asylum Appeal Success Rates at Different Hearing Centres Around the UK’. The PhD will explore video-linking in immigration courts from a variety of theoretical perspectives which might include, but are not limited to, socio-technical debates, mobilities, analyses of time, rhythmanalysis, virtuality, absences, synchronicity and simultaneity.

Practical questions that the student might explore include: how does video-linking impact upon the asylum appeal or bail hearing experience from the perspective of the applicant? How does video-linking impact upon the hearing from the perspective of others involved in the appeal process? What different experiences of asylum appeals via video-link do different types of applicant experience (e.g. by gender, nationality, age, language skill and case type)?

More conceptual questions might include: how can the case of video-linking within detention shed more light upon the relationship between virtuality and mobilities? How are different forms of presence distributed through the process of video-linking and what are the key political and social issues that arise as a result of this distribution? What are the implications of the virtualisation of legal processes?

The student will benefit from being part of a wider research team working on related issues, with input from a range of relevant charities and pressure groups. Alongside the standard thesis, the student will be expected to produce and widely disseminate a user-report of their findings.

Academic entry requirements:

Candidates must have (or expect to complete by September 2013) a Masters degree in a social science or relevant discipline with appropriate research training. In addition candidates must have obtained a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a social science or relevant discipline. Applicants with either an academic or personal knowledge of immigration law (especially asylum law) will be at an advantage.

Value of award and residency entry requirements:

The studentship will cover a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (currently £13,590 per annum for 2012-2013), a contribution towards research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for students who meet the residency requirements outlined by the ESRC (see http://www.esrc.ac.uk/funding-and-guidance/funding-opportunities/looking-for-funding/eligibility.aspx) for up to three years. Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.

This position is advertised online at: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=1126 and http://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=42797

Application procedures:

Please upload the following documents to the studentship application formClick here to apply

The preferred format for all uploaded files is .pdf and preferred filename should start with your last name.

  • CV
  • Covering letter (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
  • 2 references (if your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to cles-studentships@exeter.ac.uk)

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email cles-studentships@exeter.ac.uk or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706/723310.

The closing date for applications is midnight Thursday 7th March 2013.

Ageing in Prison: The ‘other life sentence’?

James Ridgway’s recent piece in Mother Jones brings clearly into view the challenges faced by elderly inmates facing lengthy periods of incarceration. His article opens by describing the situation of William “Lefty” Gilday, who 

“had been in prison 40 years when the dementia began to set in. At 82, he was already suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and a host of other ailments, and his friends at MCI Shirley, a medium security prison in Massachusetts, tried to take care of him as best they could. Most of them were aging lifers like Lefty, facing the prospect of one day dying behind bars themselves, so they formed an ad hoc hospice team in their crowded ward. They bought special food from the commissary, heated it in an ancient microwave, and fed it to their friend. They helped him to the toilet and cleaned him up. Joe Labriola, 64, tried to see that Lefty got a little sunshine every day, wheeling his chair out into the yard and sitting with his arm around him to keep him from falling out.

But Lefty, who was serving life without parole for killing a police officer during a failed bank heist in 1970, slipped ever deeper into dementia. One day he threw an empty milk carton at a guard and was placed in a “medical bubble,” a kind of solitary confinement unit with a glass window that enables health care staffers to keep an eye on the prisoner. His friends were denied entrance, but Joe managed to slip in one day. He recalls an overpowering stench of piss and shit and a stack of unopened food containers—Lefty explained that he couldn’t open the tabs. Joe also noticed that the nurses in the adjoining observation room had blocked the glass with manila folders so they wouldn’t have to look at the old man.”

Ridgway goes on to note that as of 2010, state and federal prisons in the US housed more than 26,000 inmates aged 65 and older and nearly five times that number aged 55 and up, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report. He points out the significance of both numbers, since “long-term incarceration is said to add 10 years to a person’s physical age; in prison, 55 is old”. From 1995 to 2010, as America’s prison population grew 42 percent, the number of inmates over 55 grew at nearly seven times that rate. Today, roughly 1 in 12 state and federal prison inmates is 55 or older.

Ridgway’s work draws on themes explored by criminologist Azrini Wahidin in her work on the passage of prison time, and the sense of acceleration of ageing whilst in prison, and it also draws attention to the carceral ‘timespace’ of imprisonment, which I explore in a forthcoming paper in Geografiska Annaler B. By bringing debates over experiential time within human geography and criminology/prison sociology into dialogue with one another, this paper draws attention to the imperative of considering time in the geographical study of incarceration. Informed by an understanding of space and time which sees them as analytically inseparable from each other (‘TimeSpace’), it highlights overlapping temporalities in a carceral context, and in demonstrates both the significance of perceived control over time, and the experience of the lifecourse, when past, present and future are viewed through each successive ‘now’ in a context where (clock) time ‘moves on’ but space is fixed.

Ridgway’s piece highlights the specific challenges of incarceration for some elderly inmates, which emphasise the importance of considering the embodied experience of ageing in understanding the personal experience of imprisonment:

“Lifer John Feroli told the following story in one of his letters: “A guy in his 70s I knew personally was in the [solitary confinement] unit because he failed to stand for the afternoon count. He was on the third floor of the housing unit, he was partially paralyzed from a stroke and the batteries in his hearing aid were dead and he never heard the announcement for Count Time.” Another convicted murderer, 73-year-old Billy Barnoski, wrote me in April to report that he was in solitary after a younger cellmate jumped him and beat him up. His friends came to his aid, there was a melee, and four people were thrown in the hole. Barnoski suffers from a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, which is treated with a blood thinner called coumadin. He also has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, shingles, and severe arthritis in his back and neck. He takes 25 pills daily. “There have been many times, so many, that they simply say, ‘We haven’t got that med today,'” he writes. “Mind you it has been heart meds just last week. Locked in this hole without necessary meds is torture.”

With ever longer sentences and increasing incarceration rates, the number of elderly inmates is rising, Ridgway’s article also asks whether the US can afford to incarcerate persons with the particular needs described above. However, as he also points out, there are few prison hospices nor immediate plans to build any. “By 2020, according to the state’s DOC Master Plan, Massachusetts will need three “new specialized facilities” to house an estimated 1,270 prisoners with medical or mental health issues that would preclude them being housed in “regular” prisons. “We don’t have have a position on compassionate, geriatric, or any other type of release,” a DOC spokeswoman told me via email. “That’s up to the Legislature.””

Guardian.co.uk – How will the Pussy Riot band members fare in Russia’s harshest prisons?

“Russian prisoners’ lexicon is colourful and full of historical references. Soon, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the two members of the rock band Pussy Riot who are still imprisoned, will discover the inside of a “Stolypin wagon”, a special windowless railway carriage, divided internally into a series of iron-barred cells. These carriages, named after the Tsarist prime minister who introduced them in 1906, have been used for over a century to transport prisoners to penal colonies, many in the remote geographical margins…”

Read this Guardian piece by my colleague Judith Pallot here Guardian.co.uk – How will the Pussy Riot band members fare in Russia’s ‘harshest prisons’?

Build Your Own Prison – ‘Prison Architect’

‘The Gamer’s Hub’ recently previewed UK Introversion Software’s Prison Architect, on display at the Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court, London. It’s a game about building prisons: “In it, you’re handed a prison warden’s truncheon and the responsibility for managing the day-to-day to-and-fro of the goings on within your jail…. the aim is to build an economically-viable business, while meeting the needs of inmates and investors alike.”

Gamers create a prison in their own image, giving the institution the facilities it needs, “from cells and generators to toilets and adequate lighting” with the opportunity to construct “an execution chamber for a waiting inmate, guilty of the murder of his wife and her lover”. Whilst the gamer designs the space, “he and a priest sit in one of the cells awaiting the inevitable. As you complete each rudimentary objective, brief flashbacks of his path to the pen are recalled – polaroid snapshots and comic-book stills capture the moments before his arrest, as the prisoner tells of his motives, malice and regret.”

One of the designers behind the game, Mark Morris, admitted in a recent interview that Introversion hadn’t really given a lot of thought to the contentious nature of prisons, especially in the US: “I think they have a very different view on incarceration than we do in the UK… We’re not trying to stamp down on our own views of prisons and incarceration, but we want to make an accurate-ish model where you can explore punishment vs. rehabilitation, those sorts of things. Learning quite quickly that we didn’t have an understanding of all this, we reached out to quite a prevalent rehabilitated prisoner and currently serving prison officers to talk to them about whether there was anything ridiculous in our game. We’re not trying to make a serious model for the Home Office. It’s a game. But it’s also an interesting and in-depth project.”

Human geographers have recently begun to explore virtual worlds such as Second Life, with for example Li et al (2010) discussing the notion of the ‘multiple spaces’ in which we live, some of which are virtual social worlds far beyond computer games. In their paper they examine the interplays and connections among these different spaces, and their social implications. In terms of Prison Architect, although the potentially controversial nature of the game’s subject matter appears to have escaped the attention of its designers until rather late in the day, perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. Although in its early stages of development and release ‘Prison Architect offers few variations on a predictable theme of prison design, apparently as it develops further there will be more ‘political’ choices to make; the Games Hub reviewer was told by the designers that “we can expect much more licence to build a slammer in our own moral image further down the line…we can expect anything from Darth Vader style dungeons to left-wing, liberal holiday homes – whichever best suits your mood.” However, the overall logic of the game seems to remain the economic viability of the prison…

Prison Architect raises interesting questions about the view of prisons and imprisonment held by the general public, and the extent to which the game panders to ‘presumably punitive’ public opinion. In a special issue of the Prison Service Journal on representations of imprisonment, in January 2012, Tony Kearon examined the ways in which fictional accounts of imprisonment intersect with dominant narratives within news media, and in his editorial to the special edition, Michael Fiddler points out that many contemporary media challenge the messages projected by ‘standard’ representations of imprisonment, forcing us to ‘look anew’.

For carceral geographers interested in the construction and the experience of carceral spaces, and understandings of them outside of the context of imprisonment, Prison Architect is a not just a representation of prison life created as spectacle for the entertainment of an audience, with the potential to shape the views and opinions that they hold: it requires the active and interested participation of the audience in active designing the penal space itself; arguably the experience is reflexive, enabling experimentation and reflection. In any case, this game offers the opportunity to consider virtual carceral space as a one of the ‘multiple spaces’ in which we live, the interplay and connections between this and other lived spaces, and the social implications of that interplay.