Carceral Geographies: Beyond the Prison

Image by Ricky M. Harris

UC Berkeley undergraduates interested in the Carceral Geographies Course Thread should contact Professor Jonathan Marshall (, Director, Legal Studies Program.

Prison and its affiliated domains—probation, parole, intensive policing, a totality of human experience we are calling “carceral geographies”—have long and complex genealogies.

This Course Thread examines the nature and experience of carceral spaces, the distributional geographies of carceral systems, and the relationship between the carceral in its totality and the state. Students will explore a range of foundational questions including: How do we understand the historical and juridical relationship between carcerality and conceptions of human being? How do the domains of carcerality move across a range of global sites and scales? How does this relationship inform concepts of time, place, culture, policy, etc.? How have artists, scholars, and activists, including those who have experienced incarceration, produced representations of, knowledge about, and challenges to carceral life?

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Prison and its affiliated domains have long and complex genealogies. However, their exponential growth, intensification, and reach in the United States in the last thirty years is palpable and profound. With just over five percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Currently, about 2.4 million people are incarcerated on any given day—one in 100 adults, 1 in 9 black men aged 20 to 34. On the inside, prisons are routinely accused of gross human rights violations—from massive overcrowding to indefinite periods of solitary confinement, from pervasive sexual violence to routine neglect of medical care and mental illness. Millions more find themselves situated in precarious relationships to the prison; on parole or probation, in jail sentenced or awaiting trial, or the focus of aggressive arrest-focused policing. This number includes the over 7 million ex-imprisoned people who are directly affected by a web of carceral institutions that impact basic access to housing, education, employment, and democratic participation. While prison populations are beginning to decrease in some regions, the larger spread of penal custody remains intact and with the potential to expand. The Carceral Geographies Course Thread aims at equipping students with the broadest range of information and theory to engage this assemblage in all of its many manifestations.

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