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Outreach into prisons and constructing a “usable past” of Guyana’s prisons

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This workshop and the attached info-graphic (created by   Laura Evans-Hill at Nifty Fox) formed part of the conference Imperial Genealogies of Crime (17th -18th May & 24th - 25th May, 2022). For images from the conference please visit: Imperial Genealogies of Crime by Nifty Fox Creative ( 

Workshop Abstract:

This workshop introduces people to the possibilities and challenges of doing research projects that connect historical and present-day issues in prisons, especially working with external partners and in postcolonial settings. What value can historical research have in terms of understanding, and even reforming prison systems today? How can we analyse inheritances of colonialism in penal policy to create a “usable past” for independent post-colonial nations?

This session is led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from history and criminology, working on an ESRC/AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund collaboration between the University of Guyana and the University of Leicester, in partnership with the Guyana Prison Service. The project examines the relationships, connections, and continuities of mental, neurological and substance abuse (MNS) disorders in Guyana’s jails: both among inmates and the people who work with them from the British colonial period (1814-1966) to the present day.

Following an introduction to the project participants will engage directly in analysing evidence about prison conditions, including enquiries, regulations, and images, from the colonial period and post-independence in 1966. This will better enable attendees to understand the historicity of contemporary prison governance and experience, and how this evidence base can be meaningfully analysed to understand present trends. Finally, the workshop will explore some of the many inter-disciplinary partnerships that have emerged from the project, and the harnessing of digital technologies for recent challenges, including the creation of a virtual reality environment of Mazaruni prison and efforts to control and contain the spread of infectious diseases (including Covid-19).

About the Convenors:

Clare Anderson is Professor History at the University of Leicester, where she is also Director of the Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies. Clare’s work focuses on imperial and global histories of punishment. Her publications include Convicts in the Indian Ocean (2000), Subaltern Lives (2012), New Histories of the Andaman Islands (with M. Mazumdar and V. Pandya 2015), the edited volume A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies (2016), and Convicts: A Global History (2022). Clare is currently working on two interdisciplinary projects. The first, an ESRC GCRF partnership between the University of Leicester, University of Guyana, and Guyana Prison Service, is exploring the aftermaths of colonial rule in regard to the infrastructure, operation and experience of incarceration in Guyana, for inmates and the people who work with them. The second, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, is exploring descent and descendants of black, Asian, Indigenous and Creole convicts transported to penal colony sites across the British and French Empires, from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist working on the sociology of crime and punishment primarily in the Caribbean but also the UK and USA. He is part of the ESRC MNS Guyana research team. Dylan applies a variety of qualitative methods to explore how power relations of criminal justice systems under capitalism are experienced on the micro level of human experiences. In this context his interdisciplinary research explores coloniality and the punishment of capital in the Caribbean across various in/justice systems including prisons, court systems, transnational organised crime, youth gangs, white collar crime, and securitisation. His academic work has been published in top-tier peer reviewed journals including the Journal of Latin and Caribbean Anthropology, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, the International Feminist Journal of Politics, Caribbean Quarterly, the Journal of Legal Anthropology, Consumption and Markets, and the Caribbean Journal of Criminology. He is currently a lecturer in criminology at the University of Leicester, UK.

Kellie Moss is a Research Associate at the University of Leicester, working on the history of mental health and substance abuse in the colonial prisons of British Guiana. She was awarded a PhD in 2018 for her thesis on the global mobilities and integration of coerced labourers in nineteenth-century Western Australia, including indentured servants, apprenticed juvenile emigrants, convict labourers, and Indigenous peoples. Kellie is co-author of ‘Guyana’s Prisons: Colonial Histories of Post-Colonial Challenges’ (2020), in a special issue of The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.


MNS Disorders in Guyana's Jails, 1825 to the present day

Economic and Social Research Council

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