The shadow of penal supervision

Pervasive Punishment, summed up in 500 words…

I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog since submitting the book manuscript back in June… catching my breath and preparing to resume normal duties mostly.

The good news is that the book is now up on the publisher’s catalogue and can even be pre-ordered!  See:  Pervasive Punishment

In other exciting news, I’ve commissioned the wonderful Gabi Froden to come up with cover art for the EP of 4 songs that the equally wonderful Jo Mango (a.k.a. Jo Collinson Scott) is currently finishing off.  We’re hoping that the cover art will work for the book too.

One novel feature of the book is a Post-Script about the writing of the short story (now called ‘The Invisible Collar’) and the making of the EP.  I can honestly say it’s one of the best bits of the book… really because Jo wrote most of it. 🙂

I’m working today on a report (for the fellowship’s funder, the British Academy)  on all of the project’s activities and outputs, as one must. One useful aspect of this has been the need to write a 500 word summary of the book. So here goes…

“In the book which is the main output of this project, I argue that ‘mass supervision’ is a largely invisible form of punishment. This invisibility limits our ability to imagine what supervision entails and so we are poorly placed to debate its legitimacy and effectiveness as a way of delivering justice.

‘Mass supervision’ has many dimensions. The book focuses on its scale and social distribution, how it has been legitimated, and how it is experienced.

An analysis of data and scholarship from the USA and Scotland reveals that in both countries there have been huge increases in the scale of supervision but that supervision is concentrated within disadvantaged communities. Explaining these developments requires close examination of distal, proximate and local influences on how criminal justice is contested and configured.

To explore the contestation of supervision and how it has been legitimated, I provide a close reading of the development of probation in Scotland. Here, a commitment to reducing imprisonment has been discursively interwoven with rehabilitation, reparation and managerialism at different times in the history of supervision. But I argue that the Scottish case is a salutary tale of successful failure; producing a huge expansion in rates of supervision but having little impact on imprisonment rates. More generally, making sense of Scotland’s enduring but flawed and fragile welfarism requires analysis of the contestation of criminal justice ‘all the way down’ to the levels of practice and experience. Only here can we understand what punishment is, what it means and how it is changing. This is as true of supervision as it is of imprisonment.

To examine supervision as a lived experience, I focus on findings from two creative projects – Supervisible and Seen and Heard – that explored how supervisees chose to represent their experiences of supervision in pictures and in songs. These findings have much in common with a wider range of recent ethnographies of supervision. Taken together, these studies draw attention to the pervasiveness and painfulness of supervision as a lived experience, even if some studies also suggest that these pains may be moderated if supervision is experienced as legitimate, helpful and time-limited. Absent these three conditions, mass supervision develops ‘maloptical’ qualities, representing a form of pervasive penal control that disperses degradation and disqualification as much as discipline, diminishing its subjects’ civic standing and rights, and thus the state’s responsibilities to and liabilities for them.

Having developed this analysis, in the book’s final two chapters, I explore what can be done to restrain mass supervision, firstly by making it visible and imaginable so as to enable political dialogue about it. In the last chapter, I conclude by suggesting that any project of challenging mass supervision requires at least three inter-related strategies: the first focused on scaling down supervision, the second focused on clarifying and circumscribing its legitimate purposes and role, and the third (within these constraints) focused on developing and delivering it constructively.”

Simple. Or not.