Although the subject of prisoners accessing the internet through illicit communication devices is commonly reported by prison agencies, nevertheless there is very little prison sociological research into how prisoners themselves engage in online activity and the effects of this on prisoner agency. Using Russian prisoners as a case study, this paper reports findings from a Leverhulme funded study on the ways that prisoner agency and structure connect and cohere in Russia using the internet. My key question is: what are the effects of using social media on prisoner behaviour and the prison environment in Russia? My claim is that the internet, together with the exceptional history of Russian incarceration, are changing the face of imprisonment in Russia in unprecedented and profound ways to produce new forms of agency, and renewed resilience of the socio-carceral structure. My main finding is that Russian penality now sits at the nexus of two processes: it is de-institutionalised in that the prison, discursively speaking, is no longer fixed to a built form, and it is reflexively re-territorialised in that it places prisoner agency onto a third space. I situate these findings in a hitherto underdeveloped conceptual framework of ‘prisoners-as-absent’. The significance of this finding for world prison sociology is that the interplay between de-institutionalisation and re-territorialisation has produced on a new penal imagery - a techno-carceral motif for the twenty first century - in the form of a virtual world.
Professor Laura Piacentini, FRSE, is Professor of Criminology at the School of Social Work & Social Polict, University of Strathclyde abd Associate Director at The Scottish Centre for Crime & Justice Research. Laura is an award winning criminologist and a prison sociologist. Her research is rooted in sociology abd shaped around criminology, human geography, Russian Area Studies, history, human rights and political science. Laure has been researching and publishing in the area of Russian penal culture for over twenty years, having lived and conducted research in numerous prisons. A Russian speaker, she was the first Westerner to conduct empirical and theoretical research in the post-Soviet Russian jails. Laura is committed to radical, create and theoretically informed research methods, which she has utilised as PI and Co-I on numerous grants. Laura has just completed a Leverhulme Fellowship the title of which was 'Toward a Sociology of Rights Consciousness amongst Russian Prisoners'.