Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Power in Motion: Tracking Time, Space, and Movement in the British Penal Estate

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Power in Motion: Tracking Time, Space, and Movement in the British Penal Estate

Article excerpt


This paper tracks the impact of prison transfers (and mobility considerations more generally) on the spatio-temporal regimes pursued within the British Penal Estate. I argue that what appear from outside as static spaces of detention are in fact nodes within a network deeply crisscrossed by internal patterns of mobility and the problematics of time-space coordination. I explore the power relations that shape prisoner patterns of movement and highlight the distinctive states of deprivation they generate.


Carceral geography, mobilities, power, prison, hyperincarceration, overcrowding


Over the course of 2010 HMP Leeds, a large 'local prison' in the English Midlands, sent 6,777 prisoners to the courts and received 9,460, it transferred to other prisons 1,882 prisoners and received 480; it managed 780 hospital escorts for medical appointments and treatment, as well as initiating 11,411 furloughs for funerals, dying relatives, home leaves or town visits (IMP 2010c, 19). (1) The scale, complexity and frequency of this movement are not atypical for such an institution. Indeed HMP Leeds represents a single node in an expansive prison network (the British Penal Estate) deeply crisscrossed by internal patterns of mobility and the external entry/exit flows of the broader criminal justice system within which it is embedded.

And yet, though the daily 'churn' of admitting, relocating and discharging prisoners is clearly a core facet of everyday penal governance it sits uneasily against the commonsense view that prisons are islands of incapacity; totalizing and warehousing institutions (Goffman, 1961; Irwin, 2005) where prisoners feel the constraint of restricted mobility and the weight of 'dead time' (Johnson, 2005: 256). The above tension parallels another commonsense disjuncture, this time scalar: when one thinks of prisons one is more likely to envisage single institutions and not systems or networks of prisons. Further still from everyday view might be the expansive carceral structures that reach beyond these institutions into the community and anchor ongoing practices of criminalization and hyperincarceration (Wacquant, 2001, 2009). Both fallacies occlude key points in understanding contemporary practices of imprisonment and their connection to the broader political economic arrangements they help to shape and sustain (Davis, 2003; De Giorgi, 2006; Glimore, 2007).

Scholars attentive to the political dimensions of mobility (Cresswell, 1999, 2006) have emphasized that social acceleration (Rosa, 2013) generates new hegemonic practices and subjugated identities (Adey, 2004; Franquesa, 2011; Gogia, 2006; Imrie, 2000; Law, 1999; Neumayer, 2006; Sager, 2006; Urry, 2004). Within this literature, the de-mobilization of traditionally 'mobile' groups like tramps, gypsies, and other 'nomads' (Cresswell, 2001; Hetherington, 2000; Mitchell, 1997; Shubin, 2011) or the contingent and coerced mobility of migrants and refugees have been analyzed (Kofman, 2002; Schuster, 2005). Others have complemented the focus on the mobility of groups with the study of state mobility systems drawing important parallels between structures of detention and structures of imprisonment: both produce contradictory formulations and rearrangements of the mobility/containment dynamic (Gill, 2009a; Martin and Mitchelson, 2009; Moran et al., 2011; Mountz et al., 2013).

For example, Mountz et al. (2013) have noted that emergent detention practices and processes attempt to fix, know and identify incoming migrants as well as to 'seal off and contain their bodies in remote detention centers. Yet such practices also produce highly mobile identities and bodies, through the erasure of individuality and the application of generalized suspicion or through the transfers and deportations deemed necessary to produce future states of immobility (pp. 527-528). Similarly Gill (2009a, 2009b) has noted that the British State deploys strategies of mobility and stillness in the governance of asylum seekers. …

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