No Brave New World: Limiting prisoners’ horizons in the name of public acceptability

Yvonne Jewkes1

1Research Professor in Criminology, School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton

This presentation will discuss the limits to prisoners’ horizons that arise from pandering to perceived public opinion about digital media in correctional environments.  Writing a decade before the World Wide Web became publicly available, and two decades before Facebook was created, Joshua Meyrowitz commented on the democratising potential of media technologies that allow people to experience and interact with others in spite of physical isolation. ‘The walls of the mightiest fortress’, he said, ‘no longer define a truly segregated social setting’ if any form of media is present (No Sense of Place, 1985: viii).  Yet this is precisely the problem for many critics who believe that the freedoms offered by digital media run counter to the purposes of imprisonment. In many jurisdictions across the world, then, prisons are being designed with a deprivational philosophy that denies prisoners access to the digital technologies that the rest of society depend on.

Beneath pragmatic concerns about risks to security is a desire to meet ‘the public acceptability test’, though this may mask a deeper fear of the epistemological threat to the physicality of the prison environment and experience posed by ‘new’ media. Many believe that imprisonment should be a time of isolation, solitude and penitence, as well as retribution, material hardship and suffering.  Digital media ‘unborders’ the tightly policed and defined margins of prison space and ‘unfixes’ the prisoner body.  For these reasons, most prison authorities are highly resistant to the introduction of digital infrastructures, resulting in prisoners not only being ‘place-bound’, but also entirely excluded from participation in what now constitutes ‘normal’ life.  The consequence is a profound and unprecedented level of disconnection between prisons and society, leading to deep, long-term social exclusion of individuals who have been sentenced to custody.

Biography

Yvonne Jewkes is Research Professor in Criminology at the University of Brighton, having held previous posts at the University of Leicester and the Open University.  She is Principal Investigator on a major ESRC-funded study of prison architecture, design and technology in the UK and Scandinavia, and has acted as a consultant to the UK Ministry of Justice, and to prison services, departments of corrections and prison architects in many countries around the world.  Yvonne has written several articles about prison architecture, design and technology, and also chapters in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Criminology (6th edition) and the Routledge International Handbook of Visual Criminology.

Yvonne is also known for her work on media and crime and was the founding editor (with Jeff Ferrell and Chris Greer) of Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal.  She is the author of the best selling Media and Crime (in its third edition) and the forthcoming Media and Crime in the USA (co-authored with Travis Linnemann).

In November 2016, she was invited to give the prestigious annual John V Barry Memorial Lecture in Criminology at the University of Melbourne where she is currently an Honorary Visiting Fellow. Her lecture was entitled ‘Designs on Punishment: The Architecture of Incarceration and the Architecture of Hope’.

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