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Power in Prisons

Power in Prisons

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Published by JessicaNosalski
A paper completed for UCWR at Loyola University Chicago. Property of Jessica Nosalski.
A paper completed for UCWR at Loyola University Chicago. Property of Jessica Nosalski.

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Published by: JessicaNosalski on Apr 23, 2014
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Jessica Nosalski Philip Sorenson UCWR 110-038 28 March 2014 The Ubiquity of Power in Prisons Governments in a variety of cultures have been attempting to discover the ideal prison to ensure that its citizens
abide by that society’s
specific laws and customs. While the governments and prison systems are all diverse, they all stem from the notion of power. Within this institution,  power acts as an omnipotent force that migrates throughout the structure itself and also through the guards and prisoners. Various prisons throughout different cultures have shown that power changes based on both the occupation and environment that it is hosting; these institutions also show that power unendingly manifests within itself which only increases its presence as the most dominant and prevailing force in the world. In the majority of American prisons, power maintains itself in a prison model that involves the power exchange between prisoners and guards. The Western world has grown comfortable with this model and it represents the common perception of power within prison that is held by that society. In the typical American prison
“prisoners are atomized, relatively weak and dependent upon staff” (Liebling 414) while the guard
s hold the majority of the power. The structure of the prison itself alters the way power decides to flow through the institution. Inmates are often kept in solitary confinement and under constant surveillance which only decreases their  power while the guards inversely maximize their power this way. The prison acts as a panopticon
 because the “enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point…[where] power is exercised…[resulting in] a continuous hierarchal figure” (Foucault 211). Because of this
hierarchical system, power effectively builds upon itself via each level towards infinite power by
 
 Nosalski 2 these disciplinary mechanisms of surveillance and enclosure. These mechanisms allow power to
act as an unsurpassed force, where it can be “omnipresent and omniscient… [and] subdivide itself…to the ultimate determination of [every] individual” (Foucault 211). Power can easily
identify the individual aspects within every person and maximize the efficiency and usefulness of that person because of that knowledge. The structural hierarchy only aids to the efficiency of  power because it manifests via itself on each level. Power does not have a finite end in the prison
guards because they must be subject to “a vigorous system of internal and external controls on
their behavior, including judicial and legislative oversight, media scrutiny, occupational norms
and standards, rigorous internal supervision and inspections…and openness to outside research”
(Diluilo 235-236). Power does not have a finite end in any of these occupations or legalities either; there is always more power manifesting via itself ceaselessly. Power acts specifically in this way in the Western world due to the structure of typical American prisons. Within some prison systems, the traditional hierarchical structures have shifted because  power is now residing mostly in the prisoners because of the prisoners themselves. This is
displayed in various prisons in Mexico where drug cartels, namely Los Zetas, are “increasingly
seizing control [of the prisons]...self-rule is practiced in 37% of th
e country’s prisons” (Agren
 8).
Within these types of prisons, inmates have “total control over an inmate population along with
the ability to communicate with the outsi
de without restrictions” (Agren
 8). They have gained increasing control over the prisons, even appointing their own guards and cooks. The leaders of
these prisons are also leaders in Los Zetas and they are “proud of how [they] have put order in the [prison]…in a place where nothing works, they make things work” (Argen 8).
 The  panopticon is also present within this environment because of the commanding authority that Los
 
 Nosalski 3 Zetas provides the prisons. Within these prisons, the panopticon gives power more strength by
making “any apparatus of power more intense…assur[ing] its efficacy…[
and] its continuous
functioning and its automatic mechanisms” (Foucault 213).The fear and the intimidation that Los
Zetas poses on the prisoners allows power to thrive effectively. Because of the massive drug trade and gang affiliations that invade the prison population in Mexico, power is thriving within Los Zetas and thus their respective prisons. Power is only increasing and manifesting via itself  because of the strong gang affiliations that are present within the prisons and the ability to communicate with outside gang members. Within this type of environment, it reinforces the idea
that “power is quite different than and far more complicated…then a set of laws or a state apparatus” (Calura 624). Although the Mexican government is fighting against the Lo
s Zetas, the realistic power and influence that Los Zetas has among the prison population is undeniable. Panopticism is also displayed in this environment because of the new hierarchical structure that has been formed which involves top gang leaders, members, and associates. Power is working
through Los Zetas by “reduc[ing] the number of those who exercise it while increasing the number of those on whom it is exercised” (Foucault 220). Although traditional hierarchical
structures may shift, power only increases its ubiquity and effectiveness by adapting to the changing environment. When the hierarchical structure of prisons is eradicated, power ends up retracting back to its former structure in an eerily similar way which demonstrates the permanent grasp power holds. This is shown in a prison in San Pedro, Bolovia where the prison model operates in a
completely different way than typical prisons in America. The prison guards have “no order inside the prison…their primary job is to keep inmates from escaping”
 (Skarbek 573) while the

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