Monthly Archives: December 2012

Magazine Theory

Outside the Penitentiary

While we were in Philadelphia, we made a last-minute decision to go on a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. Having taken a very enjoyable, informative and spooky night tour of Fremantle Prison not too long ago, I thought it would be interesting to see how one of the oldest American prisons compared. It turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the trip.

The first thing that grabbed my eye was the Gothic architecture. The castle-like exterior of the prison was designed to frighten the townspeople into staying on the straight and narrow. In fact, on the inside the prison wasn’t a particularly scary place at all, and those guard towers? They’re actually only at knee height.

Outdoor corridorThe tour was awesome. I guess you might be sick of hearing that, as I’ve praised tours a lot in my recent posts, but bear with me. I think this…

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by Jen Turner

I was recently struck by the incredible images displayed in a recent article online in The Daily Mail.  The images, taken in the early 1990s by photographer Sergei Vasiliev after he gained access to some of Russia’s toughest prisons, illustrated the variety of tattoos that adorned inmates.  This was at the peak of the gang wars that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union.  Margo Demello (2000) explains that the fact that a tattoo is permanent, painful, and macho inscribes layers of meaning much beyond simply the surface of the skin.  Far from a random collection of meaningless drawings and letters, each tattoo has its own meaning and, to those who know, can be read as a curriculum vitae of its bearer’s criminal past.  For prisoners, a tattoo may symbolise membership of a certain group and one’s place in the hierarchy – which, for some, is a…

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Saint Iscariot

The in and the out of our penal system [1909]

Download Print

To find out more about the posted print → Library of Congress.

– Illus. in: Puck, v. 66, no. 1703 (1909 October 20), centerfold.

– Summary: Illustration shows criminals on the left entering a prison labeled “Penitentiary” with a statue of “Justice” and on the right leaving the prison after serving their sentences and given papers labeled “Freedom” where they are confronted by a large hand above a city with a wall labeled “Ex-Convicts Not Wanted”. Includes text about the failure of the Penal System.

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Mind & Eye


During a recent trip to Cambodia we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. It was educational, but the most solemn part of our trip. The museum is on the grounds of the S-21 prison that was run by the Khmer Rouge during their four year reign of terror. Before the complex of buildings was a prison, it was –of all things– a school. The building’s design clearly reflects these pedagogic beginnings,  and yet somehow it’s difficult to picture given the chains and various torture implements that sit inside now (and I went to Catholic School.)

This is a definite must-see if you’re in Phnom Penh. If you’re staying near the city center, you’ll need to catch a tuk-tuk there. However, it’s easy to coordinate it with nearby sights such as the Russian Market. Warning: Tuk-tuk drivers will try to talk you into going to the Killing Fields…

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Prison Reform Movement's Weblog- America: Land of the Free, Home of the Incarcerated

Even in a year marked by heart-wrenching tragedy, we believe it’s important not to lose sight of  developments in criminal justice that promise to improve the lives of millions of Americans—and even make us safer–as we enter 2013.

For our second annual ”Top Ten” list, The Crime Report asked readers, contributors  and columnists to join us in nominating the stories and issues they believe have had the most significant impact during 2012—and will bear watching over the next year.

We won’t pretend the list is definitive. And,  perhaps in a reflection of the kind of year it has been, not all the choices represent “positive” impacts.

But as we’ve also noted this year, criminal justice appears to be one of the few areas of our national life where there is broad bipartisan agreement on the shape of an agenda for change.

That’s worth celebrating in 2012.

Later this week…

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Op-Ed: Words of Hope From a Prison Rape Survivor

From the op-ed: “I’ve made many mistakes in my life, some of which caused harm to others. I accept my punishment for those mistakes. But what I was subjected to behind bars far exceeded what was in my sentence. In 2009, while I was serving time at a state prison in San Diego County, I was sexually assaulted, multiple times, over a period of several days. The person who raped me was my cellmate. His criminal record was filled with acts of sexual violence, both inside and outside prison. It was also widely known that he preyed on gay inmates—like me.”

Read more here.


NZ: Solutions for trans prisoners needed

From the article: “The government is being urged to consider new options for transgender prisoners after a trans woman had her sentence in a men’s prison reduced because she’s at risk of being a target for other prisoners.”

According to the article, the inmate had been attacked earlier and locked herself/himself in her/his cell for 23 hours a day.

Read more here.

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Judge orders end to HIV prison segregation in Alabama

From the article: “A U.S. federal judge ruled on Friday to end the segregation of prisoners with HIV in Alabama, agreeing that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

From the ruling:

“It is evident that, while the … segregation policy has been an unnecessary tool for preventing the transmission of HIV, it has been an effective one for humiliating and isolating prisoners living with the disease…

Read more here.

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IL: State prison closures get under way

From the article: “A mass migration of some of Illinois’ most dangerous criminals is under way as state officials began shutting down the Tamms Correctional Center and other prison facilities.”

Anytime you shut down a facility, you have disgruntled staff at both the closing facility and the receiving facilities, which are now more overcrowded, not to mention the effects of the disruption on the inmate population.  Especially for supermax/maximum facilities, each institution has a pecking order, with the gangs knowing their own hierarchy and their position in terms of numbers and strength relative to the other gangs.  There will be some repositioning that takes place at the receiving institutions, so expect assault and use of force numbers to spike.

Read more here.

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MD: NBCI inmate guilty of cellmate’s death

From the article, “Thompson was found dead in his cell on Dec. 8, 2011. The investigation revealed that Cotter had killed Thompson and staged the crime scene to appear as a suicide.”

Read more here.

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