Statistical accounts tell us that there is a growing number of foreign national and black and ethnic minority prisoners incarcerated throughout the penal systems of Europe. Indeed, foreign populations are so disproportionately incarcerated in some European states that their treatment has invited parallels to the notorious over-incarceration of African Americans in the USA. Notwithstanding Loic Wacquant’s confronting characteristation of foreign national prisoners as the ‘blacks’ of Europe, prison sociologists have paid little attention to this population, nor to its implications for accounts of penal power and legitimacy. The objective of this project is both to help fill this gap, but also, and more dramatically, to recast our understanding of prison as a postcolonial enterprise.

This project will take a mixed methods approach, collating a variety of quantitative and qualitative data. First it will consider the wider European context, gathering information about populations and policies on foreign national prisoners across member states. It will then narrow its line of enquiry to Portugal and England and Wales where the research will then be based in at least two men’s prisons. Inês Hasselberg will develop a quantitative analysis of prisoners’ global migration and local residential patterns before conducting interviews with prisoners. Drawing on geo-spatial methods, the study will use data from the prisons to establish the local (national) residential patterns of the whole population before turning to the foreign national and ethnic minority prisoners to generate a global map of prisoners’ origins. The global maps from prison will be compared with more general information about migration to each country, in order to analyze more rigorously the prison’s position within long-term post-colonial relations and in more recent migration. In-depth qualitative interviews will shed light on the meaning and effect of these migration patterns in the life stories of the individual prisoners and the relationships among the confined community.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will generate new questions about penal power and illuminate new aspects of the affective nature of the migration experience. What is ‘inmate solidarity’ in a multicultural society? What about masculinity? How do national, foreign national and the descendents of immigrants get along? Where are the points of rupture or tension? What does a prison sentence feel like in the UK, where foreign citizens sentenced to more than 12 months are subject to mandatory deportation? How does the prison identify and treat the foreign national citizens within it? How do prisoners respond to this experience?

Portugal and England provide a rich comparison because of their distinct historical and legal relationships with their former colonial subjects and empires. In England and Wales, the majority of foreign national prisons hale from former British colonies, with citizens of Jamaica constituting the single largest group of foreign citizens behind bars. In Portugal, matters are very different. A comparison between the two will thus explore how the prison recasts a country’s colonial legacy, and consider how that process varies in different ‘postcolonial’ spaces. What is the relationship between contemporary practice and the real and imagined colonial past? What role is the prison playing in mediating the national identity and the memories that constitute it?


  • Mary Bosworth, Ines Hasselberg and Sarah Turnbull, 'Imprisonment in a Global Age: Rethinking Penal Power in Y Jewkes, B Crewe and J Benne' in Y Jewkes, B Crewe and J Bennett (eds), Handbook of Prisons (Routledge 2016) (forthcoming)
    As states around the world increasingly use the prison in the pursuit of border control, penal power has expanded and shifted in its nature and effect. For foreign nationals serving custodial sentences, the experience of confinement is no longer bounded by the prison walls, but now may include a period of administrative detention as well. In addition to a second incarceration, many face deportation, sometimes to a country they have left long ago. In these experiences, they join others detained for immigration matters, held together in institutions redolent of familiar penal technologies while they await expulsion. Penal power extends geographically in other ways too, as states like the United Kingdom fund new prison wings and rehabilitation programs abroad in a bid to hasten the transfer of particular groups of foreigners, as well as detention centres and border control methods elsewhere designed to prevent their arrival. Drawing on research with foreign national prisoners and immigration detainees, as well as on recent policy and inspection reports, this chapter reflects on the implications of these developments for our understanding of the prison, arguing that a broader view is necessary to appreciate its changing characteristics.
    ISBN: 9780415745666
  • Type
    Journal Article
    Publisher / Journal
    Criminology & Criminal Justice
    Digital Object Indentifier (DOI)
    Year of publication
    Month of publication
    Published online before print February 29, 2016

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