Territories of incarceration. A comparative study of prison farms in rural Europe and a proposal for the Flanders.

Territories of incarceration. A comparative study of prison farms in rural Europe and a proposal for the Flanders.

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MSCA Postdoc research project.

A Prison Farm is a correctional facility located in rural environments where people imprisoned are employed in open-air manual work. Since their extensive development in 19th century Europe, these carceral settlements balanced apparent uncertainty and benevolence with extreme pervasiveness: while their architecture and interior lost the rational precision proper of the walled urban prison of individual cells, their scope of action extended towards vaster territories. Making visible the link between carcerality and countryside, prison farms acted as an agent of rural colonisation and participated in the geopolitical project of the modern national states to domesticate and reshape their remotest rural land.

Today, within the current ever growing European carceral archipelagos, which is mostly constituted of urban walled prisons and of recent suburban super prisons, prison farms are limited in number and impact and often disregarded by national and EU policies, and by academic studies. This project proposes a comparative study of some selected existing prison farms that still survive in Belgium, Italy, and Finland, aiming at the acquisition and systematization of a currently missing knowledge on European rural prisons.

Delving in the debris of this peculiar carceral institution and trying to contrast the still enduring link between carcerality and countryside, the research will eventually propose a pilot project for a cooperative network of residential farms in Flanders. These are meant to be collectively inhabited by a very heterogeneous group of people linked by kinship that surpasses the single-family – now the prevailing societal model, however in crisis, at the base of the organization of farm labor in Flanders. While acting as locus for imagining new ways of living together that address conflict in society in line with Restorative Justice approaches, this network aims to secure a long-term housing solution and support infrastructure to people that find it hard to enter the housing market due to their stigma and inaccessibility to funding and work, and that are usually accommodated in shelters and carceral facilities of any sort.

This project is grounded on a critical insight on broader theoretical themes around the empowerment of architecture in directing human behaviour and the relationship between architecture-institutions-large scale territory.

The project benefits from interdisciplinary input from the field of criminology (VUB Department of Criminology) and it is based on collaboration with members from NGOs De Huizen and Rescaled, the Flemish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the European Forum for Restorative Justice.

Illustration: Imprisoned people at work in the penal colony of Isili, Italy, date not available. From the former Photographic Archive, Museo Criminologico (img026), Rome.