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Global Prison Studies

This libguide gives an overview of critical studies of prisons and incarceration, taking an explicitly global approach. It emphasizes the prison's global development, practice, and logic.



Much of the histories of prisons and the penitentiary in the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries are generally written from the perspective of the western nations of the United States, Great Britain, and France. This makes a degree of sense, considering that that the most obvious origins of these institutions lay there, those are the home countries of many authors writing on these themes, and they are host to some of the largest prison populations.

What this framing leaves out, however, is a rich and understudied historical and contemporary context that places the rest of the world at its center. Historically, European powers developed in the colonial world many of the techniques of control, discipline, and punishment which became essential to the development of the penitentiary and criminal justice more broadly (enslavement, the Irish classification system, the penal colony, novel forms of torture and detention practiced on Black and Indigenous people, and others). And in the contemporary, this framing doesn’t attend to the rapid expansion of prison populations in parts of the world that are not Europe or the United States - in what is often referred to as the Third World or the Global South. These countries in many cases are outpacing Europe and the United States in rates of increase, where prison populations and rates of increase have begun leveling off (Note: Those numbers do not attend to the expansion of punitive carceral technologies in the U.S. beyond the prison, like ankle bracelet monitoring, extended parole and probation, sex offender registries, etc.). If we want to understand and potentially critique mass incarceration in the 21st century, it is to our advantage to look to where it is expanding most rapidly. Furthermore, if we want to arrive at a true understanding of how the project of mass incarceration emerged and is practiced today, we must look to its global roots.

The Guide

This guide is in no way meant to be exhaustive. Carceral Studies and the study of incarceration in related disciplines and fields of study is rapidly expanding. It is hoped researchers, whether undergraduate, graduate, or faculty, take what's offered here not as an endpoint but as a point of departure. Furthermore, the analysis offered is that of its author through a careful reading of the existing bibliography and not necessarily of Emory or Woodruff Library as an institution.

In an effort not to overwhelm the reader or the writer, this guide is broken down by region, but texts move across these divisions. If the user is interested in a longer list that can be organized by theme rather than geographical/cultural area (carceral geography, for instance, Prison Literature or LGBTQ+ rights, that can then be indexed by country or region), please download this Zotero Collection. The entries can be searched by their tags, which reflect the country and region they analyze, as well as the major themes and frames of analysis they explore and use. Users can also look to the Relevant Subject Headings page, which contains a long list of subject headings at Emory that are relevant to the global study of prisons, many of them moving across regional divisions and instead focusing on theme.

The Statistical Data subpage lists sites that hosts data on rates of incarceration, currently mostly from U.S. sources. You will also find data on global and U.S. migrant detention. This section is still under development.

Works by Emory Faculty and Former Graduate Students contains work on prisons and carceral studies by people working and studying at Emory.

Reference Volumes contains texts that are more encyclopedic (often calling themselves encyclopedias), rather than focused. If the reader is looking for more general information on prisons in Europe and the U.S., this is a good place to start. 

For less traditional material, please look to Other Sources. Some of the most fascinating resources in this libguide can be found there, including The Prison Project's visualizations of carceral space in the United States performed with GIS mapping; the Warden Game, a text based video game written in BASIC in 1987 by Ed Mead, a prisoner at Washington State Reformatory; documentaries, and other non-academic sources. 

Out of consideration to the author and the reader, right now, this guide does not include journal articles, although they do make occasional appearances in the reference entries for each region. Much of the most exciting work on prisons and incarceration is happening there. Readers are encouraged to find articles that cite these books, and/or articles by these books' authors, and to search for journal articles that use some of the keywords in the Zotero bibliography.