The Globalization of Supermax Prisons

The Globalization of Supermax Prisons

The Globalization of Supermax Prisons

The Globalization of Supermax Prisons

Synopsis

"Supermax" prisons, conceived by the United States in the early 1980s, are typically reserved for convicted political criminals such as terrorists and spies and for other inmates who are considered to pose a serious ongoing threat to the wider community, to the security of correctional institutions, or to the safety of other inmates. Prisoners are usually restricted to their cells for up to twenty-three hours a day and typically have minimal contact with other inmates and correctional staff. Not only does the Federal Bureau of Prisons operate one of these facilities, but almost every state has either a supermax wing or stand-alone supermax prison.

The Globalization of Supermax Prisons examines why nine advanced industrialized countries have adopted the supermax prototype, paying particular attention to the economic, social, and political processes that have affected each state. Featuring essays that look at the U.S.-run prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo, this collection seeks to determine if the American model is the basis for the establishment of these facilities and considers such issues as the support or opposition to the building of a supermax and why opposition efforts failed; the allegation of human rights abuses within these prisons; and the extent to which the decision to build a supermax was influenced by developments in the United States. Additionally, contributors address such domestic matters as the role of crime rates, media sensationalism, and terrorism in each country's decision to build a supermax prison.

Excerpt

It is often forgotten that, during the 1960s and into the mid-1970s, the United States was a global leader in progressive penality, much as it had been about a century earlier when Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville crossed the Atlantic to learn about American innovations in humane punishment for the benefit of European rulers. Through practical experience and in-depth policy analysis, federal authorities had arrived at the view that the prison is an institution that feeds, rather than fights, crime; that the building of custodial facilities should be stopped and juvenile confinement phased out; and that only a vastly enlarged effort at rehabilitating inmates, whose constitutional rights were just beginning to be recognized and enforced by the courts, would improve the output of criminal justice. Local authorities were experimenting in correctional reform on multiple fronts, from jail processing to community mental health to prisoner unionization, with the aim of limiting the scope and injurious effects of captivity. the inmate count was going down slowly but steadily; decarceration was on the agenda; and mainstream penologists, historical analysts, and radical critics were nearly unanimous in holding that the penitentiary had entered into irremediable if not terminal decline. With some 380,000 behind bars circa 1973, the United States seemed poised to hoist the banner of liberty aloft again and to lead other nations onto the path to “a world without prisons.”

Then came the triple backlash to the socioracial turmoil of the 1960s and the stagflation of the 1970s that turned penal trends around on a dime and sent the country into a carceral frenzy on a scale, span, and duration unknown in human history. the first was a racial reaction against the advances of the civil rights movement and the partial closing of the social gap between blacks and whites; the second a class reaction against the broad gains of labor at the bloom of the Fordist-Keynesian regime; and the third a political reaction against a welfare state perceived to cosset and coddle undeserving categories, primus inter pares the welfare recipients and street criminals newly “painted black” in the wake of the ghetto riots of 1964–1968. These three strands coincided and converged into a sweeping reengineering of the state and propelled the deployment of a disciplinary poverty policy mating restrictive . . .

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