CJS Seminar: Evangelical wings and inmate participation in prison governance in Latin America
From Elisabeth Barlow on March 19th, 2021
The Crime, Justice and Society Seminar Series presents:
Evangelical wings and inmate participation in prison governance in Latin America
Prof. Máximo Sozzo, Universidad Nacional del Litoral, ArgentinaAbout the seminar:
There is a diverse and complex array of inmate governance in Latin American prisons. In this paper I explore one manifestation of it but try to build some potential general arguments in relation to the debates in the social studies on this theme in the region. In prisons of some provincial jurisdictions in Argentina, the "evangelical wings" as spaces in which only inmates who accept to live according to the religious precepts of evangelism are accepted, have been growing rapidly in the last two decades. This paper is based on field work in a men's prison in which 6 out of 10 wings are evangelical. The paper describes the hierarchy existing among prisoners inside the evangelical wings, in which the "internal pastor" - and indirectly, the "external pastor" - is recognized as the informal, extra-legal authority. It analyzes the various strategies for order maintenance within it, both proactive and reactive, and the roles played in them by the various positions in the prisoner’s hierarchy of the evangelical wing. Special attention is paid to the relationships that are built in this framework with the prison authorities and guards. An interpretation is discussed that conceives the exercise of power by the prisoners who are in the upper echelons of the hierarchy of the evangelical wings as a kind of "outsourcing" by the state authorities. The chapter states that it implies ignoring the series of forces that “from below” and “from the outside” have contributed to the existence and diffusion of the evangelical wings, in a process of “colonization” of the contemporary prison that has to be taken seriously. In turn, it emphasizes the important role of negotiation between state and non-state actors in structuring the forms of governance of this segment of the prison population. It argues that the category of “self-governance”, many times used to think about the roles of prisoners in the production of order in Latin American prisons, is inappropriate to capture this type of development, since it does not take into account the centrality of state action. But it also suggests that the conceptual alternative of "co-governance" may run the risk of emphasizing only the collaboration between the prison authorities and guards and the prisoners who occupy privileged positions in the evangelical wings, losing sight of the quota of competition and conflict that also exists between them, in a fluid and complex dynamic. Finally, the paper advocates in favor of a way of thinking about governmental relations in this type of prison spaces that includes both the collaborative and the conflictive sides between state and non-state actors, a sort of “shared but also contested governance”.