Security within prison walls or the privation of the self. The ban of telematic means from prisons and its impact on the social construction of the prison as the virtual ideal of security

Prisons are, by definition, closed spaces under strong, restrictive measures of human freedom. The Portuguese legal system foresees several empirical and legal provisions that prohibit prisoners from having any kind of contact with the outside world.

This type of prohibition is based on a set of paradigms shaped by the way the sovereign state manages the power bestowed upon it by the base of any state: the people. The balance of this combination of paradigms has been found through the creation of prison establishments where security is key.

In the light of the difficult relationship between the field of normative law and its implications on social reality, the history of prisons has shown over the course of decades that the establishment of prisons as the highest possible penalty within a rule of law dictates that the Portuguese prison establishments intend to convey an idea of virtual security to the community affected by a particular attack on the legal interest protected. This leads us to Foucault, who in his work analyses contacts with the outside world of the total institution.

To this author, the sovereign state considers contact with the outside world a mitigation of the due community illusion leading to a total and apparent ban. Such ban is both complete – since it results from the legal norm – and yet apparent, as there are more and more prison stakeholders associated with the promotion of contacts with the outside world, often for illicit purposes. Here lies the paradox in which our research is rooted.

We have sought to understand the impact of contacting the exterior world through telematic means, within the Portuguese prisional system.

We can promptly outline two great chains of analysis: on the one hand, acknowledging the pursuit of securitarian principles by the state and understanding what might be the implications of telematic contact with the outside world for the security of prisoners, the prisional system, and the social community in particular.

On the other hand, we have also sought to discover the implications and benefits of contacting with the outside world to the process of reentry of prisoners.

Through a legal and empirical analysis, we have searched for answers with positive results regarding the discourses collected within and outside prison walls, considering the referred prohibitive norm and in view of the alleged growth of seizure of telephones in the prisional institution reported in the Portuguese media.

Prison, ethnography, security, self, reentry


Nombre Adscripcion Procedencia
Marco Ribeiro Henriques FDUNL/FCT Portugal