Tuesday 26 May 2015

Sentencing hearings and video biographies

There was considerable controversy following the recent sentencing hearing of a convicted rapist in Sydney. Several well-known people provided glowing character references for the offender, provoking criticisms of their support:

In the US, video production houses are seeking to create flattering biographical videos for presentation in court:

Apparently this service has been offered to well-healed customers for some time. Rich defendants can expect elegant, well produced and professionally edited footage to show them in the best possible light, prior to sentencing. Now some video makers are endeavouring to make this potent visual material accessible to the less affluent in society. The nonprofit Silicon Valley De-Bug is a criminal justice group that is seeking to produce biographical videos for poorer defendants, to address the inequality of arms - and of production values.

Monday 25 May 2015

Criminal justice proceedings may be increasingly technologised, yet daily life in most prisons is conducted in a technological void. Digital connectivity is much sought after, and this article explores illicit communication technologies, mobile phones as contraband in prison, and prisoners' 'inventiveness' in accessing the outside world. Prisons have been 'technological dead zones' where prisoners are limited to landline phones. Long term prisoners may leave the system poorly equipped to engage with communication technologies, and this article questions whether it is a form of cruelty to  deny prisoners access to the digital universe: 
'or should his virtual self be imprisoned too?'

Life-sized screens in virtual courtroom

A mock trial in a virtual courtroom was apparently conducted last week using life-sized video screens. The arrangement of life-sized screens in the courtroom sought to create an immersive environment.

Such technology may represent some improvement, although it still focuses on the visual aspects of legal procedure while ignoring the significance of the other senses.


I've been writing about these issues in a draft journal article submission 'Video links from prison: phenomenology and carceral space' - and in my thesis of course - from the perspective of prisoners and their experience of  video technologies from prison.

The courtroom endpoint of video technology is very, very different from the prison endpoint.

Et Mon Droit

The more I immerse myself in my research, the more I find interesting groups of academics and arts practitioners who engage with both the visual and the law. For example, the Judicial Images project draws together people and resources regarding the potency of the visual image in law, and its symbolic role in legitimising power. The project 'explores how official and unofficial images of the judiciary are created, managed and consumed.' For more on that project, go to:


Similarly, it's always wonderful to find exhibitions that deal with the intersections between contemporary art and the law. 'Et Mon Droit' re-contextualises the heraldic motto 'Dieu et mon droit' that adorns English and Australian courtrooms. The artists explore the abbreviated motto to subvert legality and its fixed structure. The exhibition runs from 28 May - 11 July 2015 at Copperfield, London.

For more information, head to:

Friday 23 May 2014

Animated Crime

Several years ago I stumbled across Alix Lambert's book "Crime: A Series of Extraordinary Interviews Exposing the World of Crime - Real and Imagined". The book presents various narratives and commentaries about true crime and fictional crime, cinematic responses and prisoners' perspectives.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Visual Criminology

As a visual artist and criminology PhD candidate, I have a great interest in the intersections between criminal justice, aesthetics and visual culture, particularly in the context of contemporary digital technologies, screens and cameras linking prisons with courtrooms. During my research,  it has been great to find several online groups (e.g. on FaceBook) who share this interest in cultural criminology, more specifically, visual criminology or “criminological aesthetics” (Carrabine 2012: 464).
Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 3.13.35 PM
I've found that there are some good resources and references available about this emerging area of criminological research:
A related conference is the forthcoming ‘Law and the Visual: Transitions & Transformations’ at ANU. This  sounds very worthwhile and certainly relevant to my research! Several leading international scholars are confirmed participants including Alison Young, Peter Goodrich, Richard Sherwin and Desmond Manderson.
More details:

Wednesday 22 January 2014

On the thesis treadmill

"Automaton"= a moving mechanical device in imitation of a human being = how it feels at the moment as I try to write, write, write.
But the words appear 

s  l  o  w  l  y …

I've got fantastic rich empirical data from prison, developed strong arguments and found great literature yet the process of getting it down on paper(screen) is tough!
As well as writing, I've also been collecting interesting images that show video links in use, and the visual representation of the remote inmate. Here's one from Canada featuring former pig farmer and convicted serial killer, Robert Pickton:


Monday 9 December 2013

In the Library at the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law

A tower of books about prisons, policing and punishment - I've found my place in the famous library of the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law.

Photo: Carolyn McKay 2013

The Library has an amazing collection of books and articles and is the most extensive socio-legal library in Europe. Furthermore it provides a tranquil place to work within a stunning Renaissance building.
More information:

Friday 29 November 2013

Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law

I've been ignoring my blogging obligations for some months...
But now I'm here in glorious Basque Country with time to write and complete the first draft of my thesis. I'm a Visiting Scholar at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, located in a beautiful Spanish Renaissance building that was completed in 1543.  Today I spent time in the Library procrastinating about where to commence … and decided to just start at the beginning with the Introductory chapter. I know I'll end up revising that chapter considerably later, but it feels good to ground my thoughts and remind myself of my motivations for this research project. I've started with a short narrative about my first encounter with courtroom technologies to give context to my research focus: the embodied experience of the incarcerated person, that person dressed in prison greens appearing from a remote correctional facility.


Image: Carolyn McKay 2013 

Thursday 18 July 2013

Critical Criminology Conference 2013

Today I'm writing my paper for the 7th Annual Critical Criminology Conference:


My paper is "Video Links from Prison: Permeability and the Carceral World" in which I discuss whether video conferencing systems create new links between spaces of incarceration and the outside world, or merely reinforce the growing carcerality of contemporary society. I explore how video conferencing may be a conduit between conceptually linked but non-contiguous spaces, facilitating a process of permeability between prisons and the outside world: as the courtroom enters the prison via video link technologies, simultaneously, the prison enters the courtroom. My recent fieldwork drew attention to the issue of sound permeability, or audio bleed, with prison noise infiltrating the video booth and flowing into the remote courtroom.