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Rise of Supermax Prisons Around the World Explored in Criminologist's New Book

March 22, 2013
Contact: University Relations
Phone: 410.837.6190

Can a model for keeping the most dangerous and escape prone criminals under lock and key—the "supermax" prison, developed in the United States in the early 1980s and in widespread use across the country at the state and federal level, and in U.S.-operated prison facilities in places like Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba—be useful in other societies around the world? As countries like Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil and others seek to improve their abilities to hold high-risk inmates for long, sometimes life sentences or in death row like situations, is the supermax model the right approach for them? What are the pros and cons of such a system? Is it correct to say that the concept is "spreading" across the globe?

In his latest book, The Globalization of Supermax Prisons, editor and University of Baltimore professor Jeffrey Ian Ross and a group of contributing authors examine the evolution of the supermax prison, and consider the impact of the model's expansion and development in nine advanced, industrialized democracies. Along the way, they explore the model's potential for success in these societies, the possibility of human rights abuses inside the high walls and closed rooms that are part of every supermax, and what evidence there is to show that the original supermax model is what is being followed in these countries. As part of its analysis, the book considers crime rates in the various countries, media sensationalism concerning these high-security facilities, and what role terrorism may play in a country’s decision to build and operate a supermax.

"…Ross brings together a wealth of information in an extremely useful and important portrait of global supermax prison proliferation," said Lorna Rhodes, a member of the faculty in the University of Washington's Department of Anthropology.

"An important and timely collection of essays examining the propagation of the American 'Supermax' model around the globe…. An essential read for researchers, policy makers and concerned citizens alike," said Sharon Shalev, author of Supermax: Controlling Risk through Solitary Confinement.

According to Ross, the supermax model has become one of the most discussed and debated types of imprisonment, as lawmakers, activists, correctional planners and scholars consider what works and what doesn't work in terms of punishment, rehabilitation and recidivism.

"Because of supermaxes' controversial nature … countries that operate them often deny their existence by calling them by other names. Much of this negative response has been caused by the repeated allegations of human rights abuses within supermax facilities," Ross said in the book's opening chapter.

Ross is a professor in UB's School of Criminal Justice and a fellow in the University's Center for International and Comparative Law. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books, including Beyond Bars: Rejoining Society after Prison, Convict Criminology and Special Problems in Corrections.

The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the College of Public Affairs, the Merrick School of Business, the UB School of Law and the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences.