Title

The Late-Modern American Jail: Epistemologies of Space and Violence

Publication Date

2016

Journal

The Geographical Journal

Volume

182

Issue

1

First Page

38

Last Page

48

Abstract

One of the most troubling aspects of current trends in American mass incarceration is the extent to which ‘criminality’ is produced within prison walls, primarily in the form of inmate–inmate or inmate–staff assaults. Most methods of prison or jail control have the adverse, and perverse, effect of increasing inmates’ levels of fear, terror, and ultimately violence – with stabbings, beatings, and other types of assaults common occurrences. The design of podular ‘direct supervision’ jails and their accompanying philosophies of punishment aspire to change these conditions. Direct supervision features correctional officers inside each housing unit with no physical barriers impeding supervision, and is intended to create a safe, more humane, stress-free environment for both inmates and staff. This study draws on ethnographic evidence of inmate experiences with direct supervision at Douglas County Department of Corrections in Omaha, Nebraska (USA). The respondents generally do feel safe in this jail environment, for a combination of reasons, some of which are related to spatial design. Inmates identified a number of implications – gains and losses – of this more ‘humane’ form of incarceration in terms of power and empowerment. The study also documents the potential for inmate activism on their own behalf through this design.

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