New ‘research matchmaker’ website from asylum-network

Asylum Network have recently announced the launch of a new website, the research matchmaker, that gives organisations that work with migrants the chance to let researchers know what research projects they would find most useful. The principle is simple: organisations go online and enter a description of the research they want completed. And then students, researchers and academics go online and offer their services for those projects. Go to this link to get started:

The website offers a fast, easy, intuitive and free way to share research needs with researchers who are often keen to make an impact. It  also offers guidance on making a match and building a collaboration. To get started just register, create an advert and post it into our searchable website. You can provide lots of detail or just a basic outline, it is up to you.

Students, researchers and academics can also go online and create a profile, which lists their key areas of interest and expertise. Organisations that work with migrants can then search these profiles and contact the individuals quickly and securely.

The research matchmaker website offers a way to ensure that students, researchers and academics do work that matters to migrants and the organisations that work with them. But it will only work if it gets used! So please consider spending a few minutes to register and enter an advert.


How do U.S. states’ use of the prison compare globally? New infographic from ‘Prison Policy Initiative’

Many thanks to Leah Sakala from Prison Policy Initiative for alerting me to their newest report. This report is the first to directly situate individual U.S. states’ incarceration practices in the global context.

The press release asks ‘how does your state compare to the international community when it comes to the use of incarceration?’ Not very well, says the new infographic and report by the Prison Policy Initiative and data artist Josh Begley.

This report, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context” recognizes that while there are important differences between how US states handle incarceration, incarceration policy in every region of the country is out of step with the rest of the world. The report and infographic draws international figures on incarceration from the International Centre for Prison Studies and state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It is essential to focus on the incarceration practices of individual states,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.  “Most criminal justice policy decisions are made at the state level and the vast majority of the people locked up are locked up for violating state laws,”

“Compared to Louisiana, most U.S. states appear to have reasonable rates of incarceration, but it is disturbing to see where these ‘reasonable’ states stack up in the broader carceral landscape,” said data-artist and co-author Josh Begley.

Can Photos Of Beautiful Decay Help Us Grapple with Urgent and Current Issues in Prison Politics?

Fascinating piece with amazing images – and commentary on the challenges of accessing carceral spaces even when they are no longer functioning as spaces of incarceration.

Prison Photography

Gas Chamber With Two Chairs, Missouri State Penitentiary, #5 (2012)

Gas Chamber With Two Chairs, Missouri State Penitentiary, #5 (2012)

Fine art photographer Lee Saloutos makes images of abandoned structures. One of his projects looks at mid-century mining structures, another project is photographs made in abandoned prisons. In terms of his aesthetic approach the two are related. Generally, I am not interested in photographs of defunct prisons, but in Saloutos’ artist statement there is an an acknowledged discord between the look of prisons (beautiful decay) and the history of prisons (brutality).

“These prisons often have a long and frightening history. The design and function of these places of confinement and punishment can be jarring, utilitarian, and brutal,” says Saloutos in his artist statement.

Saloutos has photographed in Wyoming, New Mexico, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Alcatraz. He’s got his sights on a prison in Tennessee.

His statement continues, “It is easy to see and feel the anger…

View original post 2,172 more words

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.

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

Non-human, or more-than-human geographies of incarceration?

In this piece, the Times of India reports that twenty prisoners from Alipore jail attended an art workshop in front of cages of monkeys in Alipore zoo. Mantu Das, one of the prisoners serving a life term, said that “The workshop was a big change for us, for we rarely get to step out of the jail premises. We are always confined to our cells. But today we are on the other side and getting to watch caged animals. This art therapy is really helping us to get rid of the frustration and drudgery of our life in prison.”

At the same time, in the United States, Reuters reported that  a federal judge said that the infestation of a prison cell with mice and cockroaches may violate US constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, even if the inmate is not physically harmed. The case in question was brought by Calvin Thomas, serving a 7-year prison term for burglary, who claimed he was forced to endure unhealthy conditions in his cell at the Vienna Correction Center, Illinois, because it had been infested by pests, and because rainwater came through a missing window pane. It was said in the case that “heavy, protracted infestation” could justify damages even if a prisoner escaped disease or distress, and that it is “pretty obvious” that living in a small cell infested with mice and cockroaches could cause psychological harm.

Both of these piece draw attention to what carceral geographers might consider the ‘non-human’ or ‘more-than-human’ geographies of incarceration. Despite the growing interest in non-human or more-than-human geographies (essentially the relations between human and non-human animals), in geographical scholarship more widely, within carceral geography scholarship to date, very little attention has been directed towards such society-nature relations within carceral space. In a recent review paper for Progress in Human Geography, Ruth Panelli points out that “important questions of social difference and unequal power relations remain relevant for more-than-human geographies”, and the two examples above alone demonstrate that carceral spaces are multi-species spaces, occupied by both human and non-human animals whose relations to each other reveal and highlight power relations in the carceral context.

For Mantu Das, ‘released’ from his own confinement only to gaze upon the confinement of the non-human, to Calvin Thomas, claiming that the presence of the non-human in his Illinois cell constituted a violation of the protection he could expect from the US constitution, the human/non-human interactions in carceral space would seem to merit further investigation.

Arizona is Maxed Out! Prison Siting and Prison Conditions

Within carceral geography, the debate over prison siting has often centred around the perceived merits and demerits of location of prisons in terms of impact on crime rates, real estate values and community relations, as well as the contentious argument that prisons can act as stimuli for economic development. In Arizona, US, this debate is taking a new and critical turn, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACLU AZ) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) have joined forces to demand that Arizona’s Governor Brewer cancel plans to build 500 new maximum-security prison beds in the state at a cost of $50 million.

As the ACLU point out on their website, the argument here revolves around both the diversion of funds away from essential services and towards prison building, and around the appalling record of Arizona’s existing maximum security prisons, in terms of the lack of medical and mental health care for prisoners, and the impact that confinement in isolation has on former prisoners after release.

They argue that “Arizona’s budget priorities are backwards. This year, the Arizona State Legislature passed, and Governor Brewer approved, a $50 million plan to build 500 new maximum-security prison beds. But Arizona’s prison population is not growing. In fact, it decreased last year and the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) projects zero growth in the adult prison population for the next two years.  Like other states across the country, Arizona’s budget reflects severe cuts to essential services and agencies across the board. How does Governor Brewer plan to pay for 500 new maximum-security prison beds? The current state budget takes $50 million from the mortgage crisis settlement fund that was intended to help communities devastated by foreclosures. Those millions of dollars then get moved to the state’s general fund, and suddenly, the state has $50 million for 500 new maximum-security prison beds.”

In a Community Forum of the “Arizona is Maxed Out!” Campaign ACLU Staff Attorney, James Duff Lyall will discuss and provide updates on the class-action lawsuit that has been filed against the Arizona Department of Corrections for lack of adequate medical and mental health care for prisoners, and AFSC Program Coordinator, Matthew Lowen will highlight the findings of the recently published report, “Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Impacts Prisoner Reentry”. The Community Forum takes place on Wednesday Sept 19th in Tucson, Arizona.

This movement in Arizona focuses attention on prison siting, but not in terms of the conventional arguments either of NIMBY-ism (e.g. Martin & Myers 2005) or of communities competing for prison location as a growth stimulus (e.g. Cherry & Kunce 2001, Glasmeier & Farrigan 2007). It recalls Anne Bonds’ argument in her 2009 paper that “representations of poverty and criminality are entangled with processes of economic restructuring and the localization of economic development and social welfare”.

In this case, Arizona’s apparent diversion of mortgage crisis settlement funds towards prison building seems to be a permutation of Bonds’ observation that “states in desperate fiscal predicaments are endeavoring to finance their ever-burgeoning prisons systems—fueled and reinforced by punitive policies—which further redirect limited resources away for social investments” (2009, 434) – although in Arizona’s case the predicted zero growth in the adult prison population begs the question why such prison building is necessary at all.

As a recent article in the Arizona Guardian points out, Governor Brewer plans to spend $124 million on new prison construction compared to about $9 million on new school construction. Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley observed that “Of course if you build fewer schools you’re going to have to build more prisons. We’d be a lot better off if we built more schools and gave those kids a great education so they don’t end up in prison in the first place.”

Only as far away as the phone? Video visitation and prison call centres

Two stories in the news this week pertaining to prisoners’ contact with the outside world throw up some troubling questions about the nature and purpose of contact for those incarcerated.

First, many thanks to Shaul Cohen for these links to the New York Times’ piece on ‘Video Visitation’, which details the US District of Columbia’s switch to video visitation, a growing trend in the corrections field. To proponents, the video systems provide a more convenient, safer, thriftier alternative to in-person visits, reducing the need for visitors to travel to penitentiaries, to stand in line and be searched ahead of in-person visits, and the disruption to the prison regime caused by bringing prisoners to visitation suites and ensuring the security of the institution during visits. However, as the NYT reports, critics, including prisoner advocates and corrections officers concerned with how prisoners fare once they are released, fear that the video visits allow less meaningful contact with family and could damage inmates’ morale. The report quotes Angela Davis, who after her second video visit with her son, 21, said although video visitation was much more convenient, she missed watching her son walk into the visitation room and take a seat in front of her. While he walked she would observe him to make sure he had no scratches or scars while examining his body language and gestures. “He doesn’t know that, but that’s what I’d be doing,” Ms. Davis said. “I can’t really do that if he’s just sitting there and all I see is his face. You can’t really do that on a monitor.”

Sylvia Lane, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia corrections department, claimed that the video system would double the number of visits possible each day to 400, while eliminating long queues and invasive security checks, and also lowering staff costs, saving $420,000 a year, about 64% of the $660,000 budgeted for visiting costs in 2012. She also said it would keep the jail more secure because inmates do not have to be moved around as much, and the risk of visitors smuggling contraband into jail is drastically reduced.

Although at present in-person visits typically remain an option, there is a sense in which growing familiarity with online communication such as Skype may mitigate against the negative perception of video visitation. However, a more troubling extension to this argument is made by Lt. Col. Kim Spadaro, the director of Florida’s, Broward County (which adopted a video system in 2007) Department of Detention and president of the American Jail Association:

“Either way, they’re not able to have physical contact with their family members,” she said. “They stay right in their cell, they’re on their video screen, they have their privacy, and they’re still having basically the same visit as the one they had when they’re separated by glass.” In other words, because in-person visitation is typically behind shatter-proof glass and no physical contact is possible, video visitation is ‘basically the same’ in the eyes of the establishment.

What isn’t the same, though, is the level of scrutiny of the visits themselves. As the DC corrections department information video makes clear, amongst the straightforward demonstrations of how to register for visits and book them online, the need for ID at the visitation centre and the various advantages of time and money savings for both visitors and institutions, all visits are ‘monitored and subject to recording’ (9:49). There’s no further information about the storage or use of these recordings, but one might anticipate that the knowledge that their conversations are being surveilled and filed might deter prisoners and visitors from speaking as openly as they might like to…

Video visitation raises all kinds of questions about how carceral geographers theorise visitation and visiting spaces. Although the visiting suite inside prison has been thought of as a liminal space between freedom and confinement for both prisoners and visitors (Moran 2011), video visitation casts this conceptualisation in a new light, both by denying prisoners the opportunity to meet face to face with loved ones away from their everyday carceral surroundings, and by bringing the prison, albeit in its virtual incarnation of online bookings and video screens, into new spatial contexts – the DC General Hospital in this case – with the potential to reach right into the homes of prisoners’ friends and families.

In the other story this week, The Guardian revealed the UK Ministry of Justice’s plans to support the establishment of call centres inside prisons, as part of prisoners’ work programmes. Not only could the scheme ‘lower costs and overheads’ for companies participating, but it could provide prisoners with paid work inside prison, contributing to their rehabilitation and increasing their prospects of employment after release. Quite apart from the fact that prisoners’ pay of £3 per day potentially undercuts pay rates for free workers (which MoJ defended by arguing that “All contracts with outside employers must comply with a strict code of practice which sets out that prisoners cannot be used to replace existing jobs in the community. Prisoner wages, for those in closed prisons, are set by prison governors and companies have no control over the level of payment”), there are concerns that putting call centres inside prisons would be one of the first instances of prisoners serving lengthy sentences coming into direct commercial contact with the public, and concerns about prison call centres’ compliance with data protection legislation.

Scholars have already pointed to conventional call centres’ panoptical surveillance strategies, using Foucault to theorise these regimes (e.g. Ball & Margulis 2011), but the idea of the prison acting as a site of ‘offshore outsourcing’ of call centre activity, where not only are wages very low but prisoners are also in the right time zone and have the appropriately reassuring regional accents, is intriguing. Debate over prisoners’ low wages and the effect of these on the competitiveness of firms employing free labour have been ongoing for some time, but it isn’t usually in relation to a ‘customer-facing’ commercial role such as this one. (Although Jackson (2011) notes that prisoners already work in call centres in India).

Two things seem to link video visitation in DC and the proposed prisoner call centres in the UK. Firstly the financial advantage that can be gained from deploying technology to connect prisoners and the outside world, be that either in cost savings for penitentiaries organising fewer face-to-face visits, or higher profits for commercial firms paying less for their call centre workers. Second is the nature of  contact – which in both cases is technologically mediated, monitored and recorded, and disembodied, either through video screen or telephone headset, and which arguably serves to separate the prisoner ever further from family and community.

“I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells” Heat, climate, and the environment of punishment

In summer 2011, ten inmates of the Texas state prison system, US, died of heat-related causes, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners’ rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state prisons puts inmates’ lives at risk.In the fierce heat of July and August, prisoners suffered from hyperthermia, which occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees, and which can be exacerbated by hypertension, obesity, heart disease or antipsychotic medications, all of which can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat.

According to the New York Times, one inmate, Alexander Togonidze, 44, was found unresponsive in his cell at an East Texas prison called the Michael Unit at 8 a.m. on Aug. 8 with a body temperature of 106 degrees. The temperature in his cell, taken by prison officials 15 minutes after he was pronounced dead, was 86.2 degrees. Although prison officials say that they take steps to help inmates on hot days, including restricting outside work activities and providing extra water and ice, in the four-story Coffield Unit near Palestine, TX, where an inmate died of hyperthermia in August 2011, dozens of windows have been broken by prisoners putting soda cans or bars of soap into socks and throwing them at the windows, hoping to increase ventilation.

One corrections officer said “I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells. If you’ve got a life sentence, odds are you’re going to die in the penitentiary. But what about the guy who dies from a heat stroke who only had a four-year sentence? His four-year sentence was actually a life sentence.”

These tragic stories from Texas bring home the importance of the environment of incarceration, and as the title of the New York Times article  “Heat Can Be a Death Sentence for Prisoners” suggests, the ways in which climate can exacerbate the ‘pains’ of imprisonment. Although criminologists take an active interest in the location of prison facilities, and the debates surrounding the decisions to locate facilities in particular places (see for example Eason 2010, Hooks et al 2010), within the criminological literature the main focus seems to be on the relationship between the institution and the surrounding population; there is remarkably little consideration of the environment of punishment; that is – the climatic conditions – the settings in which prisons are located, and the implications of these locations for inhabitants of the institutions.

Environment matters, though. The distance between ‘home’ and the penitentiary is not just about the number of miles between two places – it is also about the separation between those places as it is actually experienced by those concerned; the perceived differences in socially constructed phenomena such as cultural practices, and language, as well as climatic conditions. This focus on spatiality and the concept of distance is not unique to geography; as Davis (1999) notes, these issues emerged in sociological work by Simmel, Durkheim and Parsons, and in Sorokin’s theorization of ‘sociocultural distance’ and ‘nearness’. Indeed, as Young (2006, 253) observes, among human and social geographers, distance has, in fact ‘long been a primary target in the struggle against geographical determinism and absolute definitions of space’, and theorists of late modernity, postmodernity, and globalization ‘have written profusely on the annihilation of space… by time’. In contesting these stances in his exploration of rural development in Canada, Young  adopts a position informed by hybridity and actor–network theory in arguing that distance ‘ought not be considered merely as the geographic tract that separates locales, but rather as an active combination of natural, technological, and social elements‘ (2006, 254). In other words, distance should be conceptualized along three dimensions: natural or physical attributes, technological infrastructures that penetrate and/or manipulate spaces, and social relationships among persons in these spaces. By so doing, the ‘realism’ of distance is multiplied, ‘in that the potential configurations of natural, technological, and social elements are exponentially expanded’ (ibid 254), and that the discrepancy in powers to actively configure distances becomes heightened.

Conceptualisation of distance on the part of the individual is key, and the ‘natural elements’, such as the physical environment, including climate and the mitigation of its extremes, play an important role. The climate, seasonal pattern, and landscape, especially when these are new and unfamiliar, all matter for the individual in perceiving distance and ‘performing it into being’. Historically, the challenges of transporting prisoners long distances to new environments have been recognised as practical problems to be overcome, pertaining to the health and wellbeing of prisoners exposed to new and unfamiliar climates and landscapes, with their attendant risks of local pests and diseases for which new arrivals were unprepared. Shanks et al (2008), for example, have pointed out the physical challenges associated with transporting prisoners from Europe to the Andaman Islands in the 19th century, culminating in very high mortality rates due to local strains of malaria, and Wilson & Reid (1949)  report more than half of a group of Allied prisoners of war perished from malaria while acting as forced labour for the Siam-Burma Railway. The impact of climate and local physical conditions on prisoners is also well known from classic Gulag memoirs. In The Gulag Archipelago Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1974, 575-6), for instance, described prisoners from the south of the Soviet Union arriving in Arctic Russia in February 1938:

The railroad cars were opened up at night. Bonfires were lit alongside the train and disembarkation took place by their light; then a count-off, forming up and a count-off again. The temperature was 32 degrees below zero centigrade. The prisoners’ transport train had come from the Donbas, and all the prisoners had been arrested back in the summer and were wearing low shoes, Oxfords, even sandals. They tried to warm themselves at the fires, but the guards chased them away: that’s not what the fires were there for; they were there to give light. Fingers grew numb almost instantly. The snow filled the thin shoes and didn’t even melt… the doomed prisoners in their summer clothes marched through the deep snow on a totally untraveled road somewhere into the dark taiga. The northern lights gleamed… The fir trees crackled in the frost.

Conceptualising distance as the natural or physical attributes of space, the technological infrastructures that penetrate space, and the social relationships among persons in these spaces, it is clear that the physical attributes of space take on particular importance. For prisoners ‘boiling in their cells’ in Texas, it is not the literal distance from home that matters; rather the ways in which incarceration limit prisoners’ ability to deal with the climatic conditions they experience. Unlike the European prisoners in the Andaman Islands, or the Gulag prisoners experiencing their first Siberian winter, Texas state prisoners are perhaps quite accustomed to summer temperatures in the US’ southern states – but in the summer heat they cannot sit in the shade in the open air with a cold beer as they might do at home.

In Texas, inmates and their advocates have argued that the overheated conditions during summer heatwaves violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. For carceral geographers, the tragedy of these prisoner deaths in Texas points up the significance of the embodied experience of incarceration, in which the environment of punishment means more than the penal architecture or disciplinary regime of the prison, and which also encompasses temperature and humidity, and the vulnerability of prisoners’ bodies, at a distance from home which includes the technological infrastructures that penetrate and/or manipulate carceral spaces, and social relationships among persons and institutions in these spaces.