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The Globalization of Supermax Prisons

Jeffrey Ian Ross

Publication Year: 2012

“Supermax” prisons, conceived by the United States in the early 1980s, are typically reserved for convicted political criminals such as terrorists and spies and for other inmates who are considered to pose a serious ongoing threat to the wider community, to the security of correctional institutions, or to the safety of other inmates. Prisoners are usually restricted to their cells for up to twenty-three hours a day and typically have minimal contact with other inmates and correctional staff. Not only does the Federal Bureau of Prisons operate one of these facilities, but almost every state has either a supermax wing or stand-alone supermax prison.

The Globalization of Supermax Prisons examines why nine advanced industrialized countries have adopted the supermax prototype, paying particular attention to the economic, social, and political processes that have affected each state. Featuring essays that look at the U.S.-run prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo, this collection seeks to determine if the American model is the basis for the establishment of these facilities and considers such issues as the support or opposition to the building of a supermax and why opposition efforts failed; the allegation of human rights abuses within these prisons; and the extent to which the decision to build a supermax was influenced by developments in the United States. Additionally, contributors address such domestic matters as the role of crime rates, media sensationalism, and terrorism in each country’s decision to build a supermax prison.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-6


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword. Probing the Meta-Prison

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pp. ix-xiv

It is often forgotten that, during the 1960s and into the mid-1970s, the United States was a global leader in progressive penality, much as it had been about a century earlier when Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville crossed the Atlantic to learn about American innovations in humane punishment for the benefit of European rulers.1 Through practical ...

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pp. xv-xvi

The process of developing and editing this book has been interesting. Each new book I write or edit presents a series of challenges, some of which I have encountered before, others of which I have forgotten, and some of which are completely new. All in all, the process of helping to create a publication keeps me engaged with my discipline, my colleagues, and my students. ...

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Chapter 1. The Globalization of Supermax Prisons: An Introduction

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pp. 1-9

Over the centuries, the way that societies sanction and punish deviants and criminals has significantly changed. From an almost exclusive focus on corporal punishments, governments, through their criminal justice apparatuses, especially the correctional system, now seem to focus on actual and alleged lawbreakers’ souls (Foucault 1977/1995). As part of this ...

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Chapter 2. The Invention of the American Supermax Prison

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pp. 10-24

Over the past three decades, a phenomenal number of individuals in the United States have been sentenced to jails and to state or federal prisons. However, not all correctional facilities are the same. Prisoners are sent to a wide array of institutions. These jails and prisons typically vary based on the level of security, ranging from minimum to maximum. Since the ...

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Chapter 3. How Canada Built Its Supermax Prison

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pp. 25-34

As one of the world’s leading advanced industrialized democracies, Canada has not missed its opportunity to build and run its own supermax facility.1 However, unlike its neighbor to the south, a country in which almost every state has a supermax facility either as a stand-alone structure or as separate wing or annex of an existing correctional facility (Ross ...

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Chapter 4. Supermaxes South of the Border

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pp. 35-48

Globalization is as vague a concept (Scholte 2000) as supermax (Shalev 2009), so it is no wonder that confusion often ensues when examining whether the supermax phenomenon has any global implications. George Ritzer (1997, 2004) uses the term “globalization” to refer to the spread of a number of American-style characteristics throughout the world, ...

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Chapter 5. The Growth of the Supermax Option in Britain

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pp. 49-66

The United States has become so prolific at incarcerating law violators (with the assumption that “practice makes perfect”) that our ideas and practices are now being seen as the model for others, including many European countries. It seems as if the exchange of correctional ideas across the Atlantic has come full circle, with the American system taking an ...

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Chapter 6. Analyzing the Supermax Prisons in the Netherlands

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pp. 67-79

When it comes to Dutch supermax, there is hardly any controversy at the moment. It works and almost everyone is happy that it works—though there are some actors (most notably prisoners and their representatives and some lawyers and criminologists) who are not too keen on ...

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Chapter 7. Supermaximum Prisons in South Africa

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pp. 80-94

Since democratization, South Africa has struggled with serious crime at unprecedented levels. As Anthony Altbeker (2007, 12) notes, “[E]very piece of reliable data we have tells us that South Africa ranks at the very top of the world’s league tables for violent crime. . . . [It is] an exceptionally, possibly uniquely, violent society.” Concern about ...

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Chapter 8. From "Secondary Punishment" to "Supermax": The Human Costs of High-Security Regimes in Australia

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pp. 95-110

It is not clear when the term “supermax” was first coined, but the lockdown at Marion prison in Illinois in 1983 is seen by many commentators as a pivotal moment (King 1999, 163). In the Australian context, we would like to draw a longer timeline, linking the emergence of ...

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Chapter 9. The Emergence of the Supermax in New Zealand

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pp. 111-128

It has been said that the era of the modern “supermax” began in 1979, when the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designated a special “level 6” security category for USP Marion, in southern Illinois (Ross 2007b). Although Marion had been constructed during a relatively liberal era ...

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Chapter 10. The Rise of the Supermax in Brazil

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pp. 129-144

In 1985, the state government of São Paulo created a separate annex to a psychiatric penitentiary hospital, establishing the Penitentiary Rehabilitation Center of Taubaté, commonly called the “Piranhão,” for the incarceration of the most violent inmates of the state. Before its creation, the ...

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Chapter 11. Guantanamo: America's Foreign Supermax in the Fight Against Terrorism.

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pp. 145-159

Much of what we know about the conditions at Guantánamo and the treatment of the detainees has been obtained through visits by US politicians, monitoring by representatives from international nongovernmental and human rights organizations, reports from individuals ...

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Chapter 12. A Globalized Militarized Prison Juggernaut: The Case of Abu Ghraib

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pp. 160-176

From the time Saddam Hussein (the former president of Iraq) came to power in 1979, Abu Ghraib was the symbol of death and torture. Over thirty thousand Iraqis were executed there and thousands more were tortured and mutilated only to be returned to society as visible evidence to others of Saddam’s power ...

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Chapter 13. Conclusion: Globalization, Innovation, or Neither?

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pp. 177-182

Contrary to many prison activists’ beliefs, neither an insidious process, nor a conspiracy is taking place at the hands of American correctional practitioners and businessmen traveling around the world, pushing and motivating countries, in almost evangelical fashion, to build supermax prisons. Although this may be true with other criminal justice ...


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pp. 183-193


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pp. 195-216

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 217-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780813557427
E-ISBN-10: 0813557429
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813557403

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 9 figures
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society