Supermax prisons are on the increase the United States – these are prisons where prisoners are kept in extreme solitary confinement – sometimes for years at a time. In this podcast Criminologist Sharon Shalev provides some details some of the findings from her latest book - which draws on her access to two supermax prisons and is based on in-depth interviews with prison officials, prisoners and others.
Shalev notes that there are about 30 000 prisoners in solitary confinement in the US and 44 states have supermax prisons.
The increase in supermax is indicative of the ‘popular punitiveness’ identifitied by Criminologists such as Robert Reiner and David Garland – Shalev acknowledges that the increase was correlated with the rise of conservative (neo-liberal) power in the US in 1990s. See also my previous blog entry that summarises Richard Wilkinson’s work on how more unequal countries (like America) get more punitive.
According to Shalev, what is also interesting is how we increasingly don’t care about the negative long term effects on the mental health of these prisoners. Supermax signifies that the idea of prison is moving towards pure retribution rather than punishment. Could this also be a consequence of 30 years of neo-liberalism? – That there has been a cultural shift to a harsher ‘I don’t care’ attitude towards other people? Sociologists such as Reiner would agree with this – which is an extension of Marxist (David Gordon) ‘dog eat dog’ theory.
I quite fancy reading her books btw – if someone buys it me for Christmas it’d be much appreciated, ta.