Representations of Solitary Confinement in Four Ontario Penal History Museums

Title: Representations of Solitary Confinement in Four Ontario Penal History Museums
Authors: Jarvis, Amelia
Date: 2019-01-11
Abstract: This thesis examines representations of solitary confinement at four penal history museums in the province of Ontario, Canada: the Olde Gaol Museum in Lindsay, the L’Orignal Old Jail in L’Orignal, the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives in Brampton, and Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston. Engaging with Brown’s (2009) theory of “penal spectatorship” and Cohen’s (2001) work on states of denial, I investigate how these representations of solitary confinement challenge and/or reinforce the idea that segregation is a necessary practice in operational carceral institutions. I identify three dominant themes. The first theme is who ends up in solitary confinement and why. The museums justify the necessity of solitary confinement by emphasizing its usefulness in neutralizing dangerous and unpredictable prisoners, along with its supposed ability to promote prisoner protection and the management of mental health needs. The second theme pertains to the duration prisoners spend in solitary confinement and the conditions they experience. The museums do not problematize prisoners’ length of stay in solitary confinement, nor the conditions of the cells in which they are held, rather historical penal discourses are used to demonstrate improvements over time, without problematizing its present uses. The third theme arising from my analysis concerns the impacts of solitary confinement on prisoners. The museums emphasize the positive effects that solitary confinement can have on prisoners such as providing the opportunity for contemplation, while information on the negative effects of isolation including exacerbating or triggering mental health issues are largely absent. Taking these findings into consideration, I argue that the penal history museums I examined foster social distance between visitors and those in conflict with the law by legitimating the exclusion of the latter, while reinforcing the idea that solitary confinement is a necessary practice in carceral institutions today. .
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -