Wall and the bridge: a spatial history of segregation measures in Scottish prisons
Bird, Jessica Jane
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This project explores the contemporary history of segregation in Scottish prisons, focusing on measures of ‘special handling’ particularly the network of small units that was operative between the 1950s and the 1990s. Scotland has a complicated, troubling, idiosyncratic and, to a lesser degree, inspiring tradition of special handling measures, involving generic punishment blocks, anachronistic isolation units, highly innovative specialist units, ‘safe’ and ‘silent’ cells, and more collective segregation spaces such as vulnerable prisoners wings. Such sites have provoked considerable attention across public and political arenas; they have been sources of shame, pride, criticism and confusion; in specific penal moments, they have been experienced by prisoners (and officers) as warzones, sanctuaries, coffins and creative spaces; and, in terms of efficacy, they have both exacerbated and ameliorated the behavioural difficulties of the prisoners contained within them. The objectives of this research are (1) to chronologically map the evolution of key segregation sites, attending to the external pressures that have informed the policies, procedures and rules governing their protean use, (2) to explore the impact of particular environmental factors on the initial design, operation and, subsequently, the closure of these sites, and (3) to reflect on the relationship between space and the ways individuals have understood, coped with, and in various ways ‘acted-out’ their segregated confinement. Deciding who, how and why to segregate prisoners raises questions of a conceptual, operational, political, and moral nature. But deciding where to segregate prisoners situates such questions within the physical constraints and potentialities of space. By adopting a spatial-temporal approach, this research straddles disciplines, utilising the methods of penal history, prison sociology, and – though in a more approximate manner – the steadily burgeoning sub-discipline of carceral geography. Additionally, by marshalling a number of personal testimonies, this history attempts to capture the emotional resonances of segregation – how it feels to actually live and work in ‘prisons within prisons’.