Irene Marti


Living the Prison: An Ethnographic Study of Indefinite Incarceration in Switzerland

While in the first half of the 20th century rehabilitation was the main paradigm for criminal policy in Switzerland as in most Western countries, changing demands for security and public pressure over the past decades have led to a shift towards a more punitive and hardline approach to crime. This ‘punitive turn’ in criminal policy has produced more investment in security, repression and control. As a consequence, in Switzerland there are now more people serving longer sentences or sentenced to ‘indefinite incarceration’ (Art. 64 SPC) or ‘in-patient therapeutic measures’ (Art. 59 SPC) for an undetermined duration. However, although the number of long-term prisoners is increasing, there is a lack of accounts that provide in-depth understanding of what imprisonment is and what it does from the point of view of inmates.

My PhD project aims to redress this situation by providing ethnographic insights into the hidden everyday lives of long-term prisoners in Switzerland. I will focus on prisoners who are labelled as ‘dangerous’ and categorized as posing an ‘undue risk’ to society and therefore held in (probably) lifelong detention in closed prisons. Based on empirical data produced by qualitative research techniques and adopting a phenomenological and pragmatic perspective, this research project seeks to investigate the conditions of this form of confinement which is on the increase today. It will focus on how prisoners perceive their institutional environment and how they arrange their daily lives under these conditions.

This research project will raise awareness of the conditions and experiences of those who undergo long-term and, probably, indefinite forms of confinement in Switzerland. By providing information from within the prison, it will contribute to the emerging debate on how to deal with the rising number of individuals in permanent social exclusion that is framed in non-rehabilitative terms.


For more information, please visit: http://prisonresearch.ch

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