2A Young People in Carceral Settings

Parallel Session 2A (Day 1 13.00-14.20)

Young People in Carceral Settings

Organised by Anna Schliehe (University of Cambridge)

Session Abstract

With sites ranging from England and Scotland to Sweden and Russia, this session aims to explore how young people experience and cope with a variety of carceral settings. As a now firmly established field within human geography, carceral geography provides a unique lens of spatially informed research on confinement. Connecting to past carceral-geographic work, this session wants to link in with issues such as gender (Moran et al 2009), architecture (Jewkes and Moran 2014), mobility (Gill 2013) while applying it to young people who have until now rarely been in its focus. All engaging with the ‘core’ work of carceral geography in different ways, the papers in this session  signal the importance of extending this field of study further to move beyond institutional confines towards a variety of spaces, concepts and practices. Exploring young people’s experiences of closed spaces and institutional practices is relevant in relation to understanding an important carceral-geographic subgroup, but also in relation to wider debates around youth offending, conceptual discussions on care and control; and ultimately underlying reflections on society and the reach of the carceral.


Kate Gooch (University of Leicester) : Does place and space matter for children in penal custody?

In February 2017, and in response to the Charlie Taylor Review, Liz Truss announced that a new Youth Custody Service as ‘a distinct arm’ of HM Prisons and Probation Service would be created. It was at precisely this time that the Chief Inspector of Prisons had reached the conclusion that “there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.” The task for the new Youth Custody Service would, therefore, appear formidable. In committing to the creation of a new Youth Custody Service and in seeking to address concerns about safety, the Government also announced a range of changes to the philosophy, staffing, provision and leadership of youth custody. New ‘Secure Schools’ are proposed, to sit alongside the existing offer of young offender institutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres. This paper critically assesses the current state of youth custody and whether the introduction of ‘secure schools’ will adequately address these challenges. It considers the importance of the spaces in which children are held – whether young offender institutions, secure children’s homes, secure training centres and, potentially, secure schools – in structuring their experiences, and whether youth custody provision needs to be rationalised.

Franz James (University of Gothenburg) : Carceral design’s meaning in special youth homes in Sweden

The National Board of Institutional Care (SiS) is an independent Swedish government agency that gives compulsory care at special homes for young people (12-21) with psychosocial problems. These SiS-homes are in an international perspective unique since they are not prisons but homes for rehabilitation. However, some of them are located in former prisons, others are purpose built but their environments well qualify to be considered as carceral design. The level of “carcerality” that characterizes the exterior and interior of the physical environment varies from SiS-home to SiS-home. Nevertheless, the notion and design of “carcerality” is constantly present and as such internalized by both staff and the incarcerated youth. Due to carceral design’s inherent nature of retaining the identity of the incarcerated body a counterproductive action is produced. It establishes the us-and-them, i.e. the objectification of the subject. This paper aims to identify, discuss and critically view carceral design details and their impact on the youth’s lived experience, recovery and rehabilitation. Through reading of the produced data, the youth’s narratives display explicit and implicit intentions that form the interior, as well as positive and negative experiences of the designed physical environment. However, the human experience in this material points foremost to loss of freedom as the overall strongest state of being in these homes. It may thus be questioned how and if the physical environment can or should mitigate this loss and if less “carcerality” in the designed environment would be one factor to contribute to a greater sense of wellbeing?

Anna Schliehe (University of Cambridge) : Young women’s institutional mobility and experience of closed space

Focussing on young female detainees in Scotland, this paper seeks to understand their experiences of different types of ‘closed’ space. Secure care, prison and closed psychiatric facilities all impact on the complex geographies of these young women’s lives. The fluid but always situated relations of control and care provide the backdrop for their journeys in/out and beyond institutional spaces. Understanding institutional journeys with reference to age and gender allows an insight into the highly mobile, often precarious, and unfamiliar lives of these young women who live on the margins. This paper employs a mixed-method qualitative approach and explores what Goffman calls the ‘tissue and fabric’ of detention as a complex multi-institutional practice. In order to be able to understand the young women’s gendered, emotional and often repetitive experiences of confinement, analysis of the constitution of ‘closed space’ represents a first step for inquiry. The underlying nature of inner regimes, rules and discipline in closed spaces, provide the background on which confinement is lived, perceived and processed. The second part of the analysis is the exploration of individual experiences ‘on the inside’, ranging from young women’s views on entering a closed institution, the ways in which they adapt or resist the regime, and how they cope with embodied aspects of detention. The third and final step considers the wider context of incarceration by recovering the young women’s journeys through different types of institutional spaces and beyond. The exploration of these journeys challenges and re-develops understandings of mobility and inertia by engaging the relative power of carceral archipelagos and the figure of femina sacra.

Tom Disney (University of Birmingham) : Tracing the Carceral Mobilities of Russia’s Disability Orphanages

Although orphanages are often thought to be a relic of the past, such institutions for children without parental care persist in many countries to this day. Despite being ostensibly environments of care, orphanages in reality demonstrate many carceral qualities. This paper draws upon an ethnography of orphan care in Russia, and traces the multi-scalar mobilties of institutionalised children across a network of disability orphanages in the country. In doing so it seeks to reconsider children’s mobilities through the relationship between care and control. Drawing upon the lens of carceral mobilities, the paper challenges the dominant conceptualisations of children’s mobilities as ‘independent’ or necessarily intertwined with notions of ‘wellbeing’. Instead this paper examines movement in the Russian disability orphanage system to present three typologies of multi-scalar carceral mobilities which children experience in this context; firstly as a form of spatial segregation and containment, secondly as a form of punishment and, thirdly, enforced stillness and restraint as a form of care. In doing so it provides new insights into the nature of the everyday for children and young in restricted institutional environments, largely absent from the wider geographical literature. Through the lens of carceral mobility this article provides a more nuanced geographical reading of the orphanage beyond an environment variously understood to harm or problematically to provide shelter, but as an institution enmeshed in biopolitical processes of power and control