More than just 'notorious': critical considerations of gender in the early history of Kingston Penitentiary
MacRae, Leslie Dawn
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For centuries, scholarship in the area of punishment, prisons and corrections has been generated by a number of different disciplines. It is difficult to argue the fact that there has been a bias in this literature toward discussions of the crimes and punishments of men. Given the historically disproportionate representation of men in criminal justice systems worldwide, the male ‘inmate’ has undoubtedly become the taken-for-granted norm in penality studies. However, works on ‘male imprisonment’ versus ‘female imprisonment’ (particularly feminist works) demonstrate a significant disparity in their approach. Despite the extensive nature of scholarship on penality, and the strong focus on gender by feminist scholars in the area, there has been a vast silence on the incarcerated male as a gendered subject, and the male prison as a gendered institution. Although this silence has been briefly noted by feminist scholars in their discussions of female imprisonment (e.g. Hannah-Moffat 2001; Howe 1994; Naffine 1996), few scholars to date have taken up a critical discussion of gender in the context of male incarceration. This oversight is especially characteristic of Canadian penal scholarship and Canadian penal histories in particular. It is the aim of this work to initiate the ‘catch-up,’ to engage in a historical examination of male penality in Canada that draws upon a number of the developments made in both the critical literature on punishment – predominantly focusing on the incarceration of men – and feminist scholarship’s gender approaches to women’s incarceration. Arguably, there is no better point to start this inquiry than with Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s oldest and long-considered most ‘notorious’ prison for men. Using historical documents from the early history of Kingston Penitentiary (1833-1856), an analysis of discourse using a Foucauldian feminist theoretical approach is performed to uncover the gendered nature of the institution, and the policies and procedures developed for inmate men. Findings suggest that gendered power relations involving a number of different strategies (benevolence, control, pastoralism) and masculinities (aggressive, vulnerable, etc.) were at work. Implications of viewing prisons for men as gendered institutions are discussed.