Academic Year 2010-2011
Máximo Sozzo is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Santa Fe, Argentina). He is Director of the MA in Criminology, Director of the Program for University Education inside Prisons and Director of the Social Involvement Program “Crime and Society” at the same university. He has been adjunct and associate professor of sociology and criminology at various Argentinean universities during the last ten years. As a visiting professor he has taught graduate courses in criminology at several universities in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Spain. He has been visiting research fellow at the universities of Bologna, Toronto, Barcelona and FLACSO Ecuador. He has been consultant on issues related to crime and punishment for different national and local governments and international organizations. His research over the last fifteen years has related to different themes in the field of criminology: police violence and accountability, police reform, crime prevention discourses and practices, history of psychiatry and criminal justice, cultural travels of discourses and practices on crime control, history of criminology and metamorphosis of prison and crime control in late modernity. He has published on these themes four books and many book chapters and essays in academic journals.
“The Metamorphosis of Prison in South America”
Prison has been the main form of punishment in South America since the translation of “penal modernism” from “central countries” during XIX century with different pace and modes in specific national contexts. Prison was historically constructed around a correctional project that structured various assemblages of discourses and practices oriented towards the goal of transforming the prisoner in a “non-criminal”. These assemblages had uneven levels of development in each national context and, inside each country, between regions and institutions. Despite the hegemony of the correctional project, in the history of prison in the region there is a persistent presence of prisons or sections inside prisons where nothing is said or done to correct the prisoner; spaces of pure confinement that embodies a rudimentary model of “warehouse imprisonment”. It could be said that there always be a sort of “mixed economy” between two modes of organizing locked up life in South America; one explicitly endorsed, the other implicitly adopted.
My research analyzes if this “mixed economy” of imprisonment in the region is changing in the last decades, in connection with broader transformations of punishment. The project focuses in several national contexts that have very different political and cultural realities: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. The question of punishment has not been a key social issue in the region in the 1980s, during transition to democracy. But this situation has suddenly changed in the 1990s with several processes that impacted profoundly in discourses and practices of punishment: the politization of crime and its inclusion in electoral competition; the growing importance of victims in crime control institutions and practices; the expansion of social exclusion and vulnerability and its effect in the growth of the “crimes of the powerless”; the cultural diffusion of fear of crime and its impact in public opinion and everyday routines, the rapid and fragmented criminal law change as a response to the perceived “crisis” of insecurity; etc. In this scenario, the model of “warehouse imprisonment” has been explicitly adopted in expert, political and mass media discourses as a realist and positive way of organizing locked up life, oriented exclusively towards the goal of “defending society”. This adoption is connected with various actual changes in prison institutions and practices that appear to alter significantly the “mixed economy” characteristic of prison history in South America.
The project addresses if and to what extent it is possible to affirm the existence of this tendency in the national contexts included in this comparative study. To understand this I would explore in each national case the uneven cultural importation of “penal modernism”, the more recent impact of broader political rationalities and programs –such as neoliberalism and neosocialism- and the peculiar effects of general economic and cultural processes. In this framework, I am particularly interested in the current processes of translation in the local settings of discourses and techniques about punishment and prison produced in the last decades in other regions -specially the United States- and why and how they are not only adopted but also adapted to the contexts of reception. By this research, I hope to contribute to an understanding of present transformations of punishment that do not take for granted uniform developments across frontiers as in a simplistic view of the globalization of crime control strategies, but restore the embedded character of these changes in specific settings, although it acknowledges the existence of streams of influence across contexts with unequal strength in global arena.