The Carceral Automaton: Digital Prisons and Technologies of Detention


Prisons are on the cusp of a technological transformation as twenty-first-century digital connectivity in ‘free’ society permeates prison design and offender management. This article will begin with an overview of the digital technologies in ‘smart’ prisons. Two limbs are emerging: technologies that are embedded into the infrastructure of prisons to benefit authorities through heightened security, and technologies that may benefit prisoners by providing them with positive opportunities to access justice, maintain family relationships and engage in programs aimed at optimising their post-release circumstances and rehabilitation. However, recent case law paints a picture of prison life devoid of human contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing isolation and heightened anxiety. Through the lens of emergent conceptions of digital criminology, this article will analyse Australian case law to examine whether the automated, smart or digital prison offers a utopian vision of safe detention and rehabilitation or a dehumanised and punitive dystopia.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2022-03-01
Pages:100 to 119
Section:Part 1: Digital (in)Justices
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How to Cite
McKay, C. . (2022) “The Carceral Automaton: Digital Prisons and Technologies of Detention”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(1), pp. 100-119. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2137.

Author Biography

The University of Sydney

Dr Carolyn McKay is a Senior Research Fellow, University of Sydney Law School and co-Director, Sydney Institute of Criminology. Carolyn is recognised for her research into technologies in justice and is author of The Pixelated Prisoner: Prison video links, court ‘appearance’ and the justice matrix (2018) Routledge. She has recently commenced an Australian Research Council funded DECRA for ‘The Digital Criminal Justice Project: Vulnerability and the Digital Subject’.  This project is examining how the increased use of remote access technologies leads to new forms of 'digital justice'. In particular, she is examining the impacts on vulnerable users of criminal courts.