The Carceral Geography Lab is a community of researchers at or connected to the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES) at the University of Birmingham, UK, actively researching carceral spaces and experiences.
The Carceral Geography Lab forms part of the Geopolitics and Carceral research theme in Human Geography at GEES, and part of the cross-University Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing.
Research undertaken in the Carceral Geography Lab directly informs teaching on the Carceral Geographies module for Year 3 undergraduate students at Birmingham.
Current members of the Carceral Geography Lab include:
Dominique Moran, Professor in Carceral Geography
Dominique has held over £1m of ESRC funding, for research into prison visitation and recidivism, and prison design. She is author of Carceral Geography (2015) and an editor of Carceral Spaces (2013), Historical Geographies of Prisons (2015), Carceral Spatiality (2017) and the Palgrave Handbook of Prison and the Family (2019). Her work is transdisciplinary, informed by and extending theoretical developments in geography, criminology and prison sociology, but also interfacing with contemporary debates over hyperincarceration, recidivism and the advance of the punitive state. She publishes in leading journals including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Progress in Human Geography and Theoretical Criminology.
Melanie Griffiths, Birmingham Fellow
Melanie Griffiths has been Principal Investigator on an ESRC Future Research Leaders grant since January 2014. The project, entitled Detention, Deportability and the Family: Migrant Men’s Negotiations of the Right to Respect for Family Life, is on the family lives and Article 8 rights of men at risk of deportation. Prior to this, Melanie spent nine months as an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, working with Nick Gill on an ESRC-funded project looking at disparities between asylum appeals heard at tribunal hearing centres across England and Wales. Before that, she completed her doctoral research at the University of Oxford, in association with COMPAS and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Her thesis, entitled ‘Who is Who Now?’ Truth, Trust and Identification in the British Asylum and Immigration Detention System considered the asylum system in the UK, focusing particularly on refused asylum seekers and immigration detainees.
Ellie Slee, Doctoral Researcher
Ellie is conducting her ESRC-funded PhD linked to a wider research project on prison design, focusing on the external aesthetics of prisons. her PhD examines two of the UK’s biggest prisons, HMP Manchester (‘Strangeways’), a Victorian city centre prison, and the recently-opened HMP Berwyn in North Wales. Ellie has recently completed an ESRC Overseas Institutional Visit to work with Michelle Brown at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She has published from her PhD in the Routledge International Handbook of Visual Criminology
Will Thurbin, Doctoral Researcher
Will Thurbin is researching Rapid Deployment Prisons as transient carceral spaces for his PhD. Will has worked in carceral environments for 24 years, undertaking a diverse range of strategic and operational leadership roles, gaining a detailed understanding of the complex dynamics and infrastructural requirements that keep prisons operationally functional and compliant with international standards. He contributed to the development of the UNOPS Technical Guidance for Prison Planning (TGPP), which provides detailed guidance on how to build/rehabilitate prisons in line with the Nelson Mandela Rules and other international standards. He is committed to the improvement of prison conditions through better design, believing that sustainability, decency and rehabilitation must be woven into the fabric of prison infrastructure so that staff are supported in the delivery of their professional obligations towards prisoners. Will has a Masters degree in Criminology from the University of Leicester.
Rowan Mackenzie, Doctoral Researcher
Rowan’s PhD, based primarily at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute, is on the use of Shakespeare in UK prisons. In Creating Space for Shakespeare: non-traditional and applied theatre settings she considers the performance of Shakespeare in a range of applied theatre settings: educational institutions for the socially disadvantaged, youth offender institutions, psychiatric units and prisons. The positive benefits of drama in prisons has been acknowledged for decades although the specifics of how this can drive potential rehabilitative journeys is less clear. Rowan’s research will not be able to directly correlate Shakespearean drama and rehabilitation as there are multiple factors at work in any individual’s decision to alter their life, however, through research in this field she intends to test the hypotheses that being another character allows people to develop their communication and make new decisions. The intention is that her research will then feed into future policy decisions about drama programmes in carceral environments.
Visiting researchers are welcome!
For information and funding opportunities, please see:
GEES’ Visiting Scholar Scheme.
Marie Curie Individual Fellowships offering funding for postdoctoral researchers from outside the UK
The Rubicon Programme offering funding for research visits by Dutch researchers
The Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship scheme 2018, enabling researchers to undertake a significant piece of publishable work, leading to a more permanent academic position
Alumni and Associates
Virve Repo, Doctoral Student in Geography at the University of Turku, Finland, visited the Carceral Geography Lab in Jan-Feb 2019. Her visit was connected with a new research project “Spaces of confinement in institutions of care in Finland” and at GEES Virve further developed her interests in carceral geography and critical legal geography.
Zhang Bo, an academic researcher at the National Police University for Criminal Justice in China, spent six months in the Carceral Geography Lab in 2019. He is interested in the potential for prison architecture to have a positive effect on the work of prison staff and the rehabilitation of prisoners, and to analyse the ways in which penal philosophy is translated into prison design and architecture. The aim of his visit was to raise the level of theoretical understanding and evaluation of practical solutions for prison design and architecture in China, and thereby to inform interventions designed to improve the rehabilitation of prisoners, reduce the rate of recidivism, and assist prisoners in post-custody reintegration
Irene Marti, PhD candidate at the University of Neuchatel, and research assistant at the University of Bern, Switzerland, undertook a six month visit to GEES in 2017 to work in the Carceral Geography Lab with Dominique Moran. Having spent some time working in prisons research within social anthropology, Irene is now working on the experience of incarceration for prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (i.e. those who have no release date and will probably end their lives in prison). Her project, Living the prison: An ethnographic study of indefinite incarceration in Switzerland, is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, who funded her overseas institutional visit to Birmingham. She had already completed data generation in Switzerland, and the purpose of her time in at GEES was to analyse her data, consider theoretical approaches, engage in academic dialogue and start to write up. She is considering time, space and embodiment as key concepts to inform the analysis and write-up process.
Jen worked on the ESRC-funded project ‘Fear-suffused environments’ or potential to rehabilitate?, and held an Honorary position at GEES whilst a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Brighton. This current project aligns with Jen’s wider research interests, which fit broadly at the intersection of cultural and political geography. Her first monograph, The Prison Boundary has now been published (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She is now Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Liverpool.
Tom was a Postdoctoral Researcher in Carceral Geography, working from 2015-2016 on the ESRC-funded project Breaking the Cycle in which he led on work with prisoners’ families. He had previously completed his ESRC-funded PhD on the spatial aspects of orphan care in the Russian Federation, theorising the spatiality of orphanages and mobilisation of children within them, in terms of carceral studies. His recent work in Environment and Planning D theorises mobility in the orphanage through the lens of carcerality. Tom is now Lecturer in Childhood Studies at the University of Northumbria.
Marie undertook her PhD in Criminology at the University of Cambridge, before joining the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ project as a Postdoctoral Researcher in 2013. In this project she built upon her PhD, through which she researched the ‘effectiveness’ of the current visiting system in English prisons, taking a theoretical and human rights perspective, particularly with regards to the maintenance of family ties between prisoners and their families. Following her Postdoc position at GEES, in 2016 Marie took up a Lectureship at the School of Law at Sussex University.
Lucy undertook Masters level research in carceral geography, studying the computer simulation game ‘Prison Architect’. Drawing upon contemporary debates within carceral geography, criminology and virtual geography and gaming, her study investigated the extent to which public punitiveness is expressed within virtual prison design. A paper based on her research was published in Environment and Planning: A in 2017.
Bhupinder Kaur Mann
Bhupinder studied Carceral Geography as a GEES undergraduate, continuing to postgraduate study at University College London. Her Masters research at UCL aimed to analyse the experiences and motivations of visitors to UK immigration detention centres using approaches from carceral geography, and documenting the experiences of visitors to facilitate academic discussion about the conceptualisation spaces of detention through thinking emotionally. Her Masters research was published as a UCL Working Paper.
Henrietta undertook research for an MSci dissertation in carceral geography on the post-prison, specifically looking at visitor experiences at HMP Oxford and HMP Reading following their closure and conversion. She graduated in 2017.
Gabriella carried out an undergraduate dissertation project in carceral geography as part of her Bachelor’s degree in Geography at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2017. She researched the local community response to HMP Bronzefield, a women’s prison in Surrey, UK.
An undergraduate student in History at the University of Birmingham, Jessica was the recipient of an Undergraduate Research Scholarship from the College of Arts and Law in 2017. Supervised by Matt Houlbrook and Dominique Moran, she carried out an initial scoping survey of the archives of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and HMP Birmingham.
Bethany worked on historical prison conditions for her Masters dissertation, using archival resources to interrogate prisoners’ testimony of incarceration in the mid-20th century
The Carceral Geography Lab is connected, via advisory roles held by its members, to major international research projects exploring spatial aspects of carcerality:
- The Carceral Mobility Project (CAMP): Investigating carceral junctions in the Danish asylum regime, funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research – Humanities (FKK) 5.3 million DKK to Simon Turner at the University of Copenhagen
- Penal policymaking and the prisoner experience: a comparative analysis is a five-year ERC-funded project undertaken by Ben Crewe and his research team in the Comparative Penology Group at the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge
Spaces of confinement in the institutions of care and control in Finland, funded by the Academy of Finland, is a four-year project based with Päivi Rannila, Academy Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Division of Geography, University of Turku, Finland.