With the modern privatization of prisons, which started in the 1980s in the US as part of a general politics of privatization under the neoliberal paradigm, the body of the prisoner was inserted in different modes of economic production and simultaneously subjected to different forms of spatial-temporal divisions in economic circulation. Prison Work looks into these changes through a diagrammatic scheme based on the construction plan of an emblematic 19th century penitentiary, which closed a decade before the modern privatization of prisons started.
The Eastern State Penitentiary had been built on a hill outside of Philadelphia, but during the expansion of the city the prison was incorporated into the urban grid. This grid was constructed at an angle to the walls of the prison, leaving open triangle areas of public space on its sides. Almost as if the intention was to actively disassociate the not-incarcerated part of society and the life outside, from the convicts inside.
This schematic perception might still resonate today. However, an inquiry into the process of privatization over the axes of labour and debt makes clear that, while certain durations and direct consequences diverge between inside and outside, the intensive effects of privatization, liberalization and deregulation on the conditions of labour and personal economy, are shared by all bodies, on both sides of the wall
“…changes in how I saw the world seemed to be going in step with my friends. When that became clear, in a single sentence, or over the whole visit, we’d be pleasantly surprised and then not surprised, after all we were living through the same times.” [John Barker, Bending the Bars, 2002]
+detail from Prison Work, 2013