Articles | Volume 69, issue 5
Standard article
22 Dec 2014
Standard article |  | 22 Dec 2014

The production of bedspace: prison privatization and abstract space

M. L. Mitchelson

Abstract. This paper reports results from a critical discourse analysis of Annual Reports for Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, Inc. (formerly Wackenhut), the two largest private prison firms currently operating in the United States. Considerable geographic scholarship has analyzed privatization, on the one hand, and imprisonment, on the other. However, geographers have paid less attention to explicitly for-profit imprisonment. In particular, geographers have overlooked or ignored the emergence of bedspace, a concept that now pervades penal discourse. Rather than continuing conventional public-versus-private prison debates, this paper identifies bedspace as the discursive common ground upon which private prison industrialists and the state actually converge. Applying Henri Lefebvre's theorization of "abstract space" to imprisonment, I argue that the discursive creation of bedspace produces a nondialectical representation of space that is fully commodified and bureaucratized. However, the paper concludes that this nondialectical space problematically severs the immanently human geography of imprisonment, which is a "messy" space that is always lived and experienced in particular ways, from its inanimate architectural infrastructure (i.e., beds). Beyond the potential ethical and empirical challenges raised by the production of such an abstract space, bedspace signals the discursive and material convergence of state punishment with capital flows that build and often move beyond prison boundaries while obscuring violent geographies.