Prisons and State Building: Promoting ‘The Fiasco of the Prison’ in a Global Context


Prison expansionism around the world is, in part, facilitated by extolling the prison as a symbol of ‘Western-democracy’ which is justified as an effective and transparent means of enforcing the rule of law and as an internationally recognised indicator of a strong state. This article, however, argues that the realities of prisons do not match up with their symbolic and extolled virtues. Drawing on existing empirical and theoretical literature, this article argues that the role of the prison as a symbol of effective ‘state-building’ ignores the irrefutable evidence of the ‘fiasco’ of the prison, either to fulfil its own stated purposes or to operate in ways that adhere to or strengthen democratic ideals. Further, it suggests that international bodies, non-government organisations, state officials and scholars must engage more honestly with the ‘truth about prisons’ and their failure to function in the ways they are imagined to.

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Published: 2018-12-01
Pages:1 to 15
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How to Cite
Drake, D. H. (2018) “Prisons and State Building: Promoting ‘The Fiasco of the Prison’ in a Global Context”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 7(4), pp. 1-15. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v7i4.1041.

Author Biography

The Open University
 United Kingdom

Deborah is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.  Her research has mainly focused on prisons, specifically in the areas of maximum-security and long-term imprisonment. She has also conducted community-based research in Milton Keynes and has been involved in a number of local community engagement projects. She is author of Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of Security (Palgrave, 2012) and co-editor (with Rod Earle and Jennifer Sloan) of the Palgrave Handbook of Prison Ethnography (2015).