Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

The Rise and Fall of Supermax: How the US Prison Model and Ultra Punitive Penal Policy Travelled to Colombia

de Dardel, Julie ; Söderström, Ola

(Working Papers MAPS ; 3)

In the context of the US anti-narcotic program, ‘Plan Colombia’, during the first decade of the 21st century, special agents of the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) took position in the heart of the Colombian penitentiary administration. Their task was to lead a profound reform of the sector, based on the US ultra-punitive penal regime and its ‘supermax’ housing units. Based on... Plus

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    Summary
    In the context of the US anti-narcotic program, ‘Plan Colombia’, during the first decade of the 21st century, special agents of the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) took position in the heart of the Colombian penitentiary administration. Their task was to lead a profound reform of the sector, based on the US ultra-punitive penal regime and its ‘supermax’ housing units. Based on extensive fieldwork with prison architects, inmates and other actors in the penal systems of the US and Colombia, this paper analyzes how the reform was set up on the ground, shedding light on the partially divergent interests and expectations of both governments within the neocolonial context of ‘Plan Colombia’. We show how, on the one hand, the reform partially succeeded in militarizing carceral life and deurbanizing the prison system, spatially isolating inmates from their social and family environment. On the other hand, we show that the reform eventually failed, for institutional and political reasons, to meet its declared goal of modernizing Colombian prisons. From a more theoretical perspective and drawing on recent literature on the mobility of policies and built forms, the paper argues that the introduction of supermax prisons in Colombia is a striking case where a mobile policy and a traveling architectural type coincided and complemented each other, and suggests that in order to advance our understanding of how space is produced in a global arena, interconnections between circuits of policy and architectural mobilities should be more systematically considered.