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Droits et voix / Rights and Voices

Veronique Strimelle
Françoise Vanhamme

VII. Transcarceration and the Production of “Grey space”: How Frontline Workers exercise spatial Practices in a Halfway House for Women

Jennifer M. Kilty et Leah DeVellis

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1Critical studies of criminal justice networks have established that community correctional institutions, such as halfway houses, contribute to the expansion of the carceral net, an effect that has been conceptualized as “transcarceration” (see Lowman, Menzies, and Palys 1987; and Maidment 2006a). Contractual, professional and social relationships linking halfway houses, and medical and social work institutions, to corrections form transcarceral bonds, which are primarily facilitated by probation and parole ordinances under which courts order women to serve time in community halfway houses following their release from provincial or federal prisons. Frontline workers are legally required to supervise the women’s compliance with their parole orders, which involves monitoring their movements inside the halfway houses as well as in different community spaces, and maintaining communication with other correctional and care or treatment professionals. In order to produce transcarceral spaces, criminal justice ordinances and surveillance measures are effectively used to monitor non-carceral public spaces, and thus contribute to the reconstitution of different spaces and the meanings attached to them. Taking this understanding of the network of institutional assemblages (see Haggerty and Ericson 2000) that govern criminalized women as they reside in the community as a point of entry, this paper explores the concept of transcarceration, and how it both produces and is produced by different conceptions of space. Drawing on empirical interviews conducted with eight frontline staff at one halfway house for women in Ontario in 2006 and 2007, we discuss how frontline workers supervise, govern, watch and discursively construct halfway house residents as criminalized and medicalized women, through the production and reproduction of halfway houses as a grey and transcarceral space.


2Over twenty years ago John Lowman, Robert J. Menzies, and Ted Palys (1987, 9) succinctly outlined the concept of transcarceration, drawing on the work of Stanley Cohen on the ways in which the professionalization of criminal justice contributes to net-widening and state-sanctioned social control strategies:

Transcarceration… looks to cross-institutional arrangements between the systems of criminal justice, mental health, and social welfare, in which “clients” of the criminal justice system are shuffled from one section of the help–control continuum to another. By managing “clients” in or outside of the institutional setting, the correctional machinery expands to encompass health, welfare, social services, child protection, education, and housing—all of which translates into decentralized control and increasingly entails the fitting together of subsystems, rather than the consolidation of one agency in isolation from its alternatives.

3By adding gender to her analyses, MaDonna Maidment (2006a, 2006b) illustrates how governance strategies for criminalized women are transcarceral, as similar patterns of exercising social control transcend prison walls and penetrate different spaces. While “the community” is also structured and governed, this occurs in different ways than it does for the prison, which is characterized as a total institution with top-down and repressive control (see Goffman 1963; and Foucault 1977). Many organizations with connections to the criminal justice system are subject to a seeping saturation of correctional approaches to governance. This ongoing seepage of correctional-type governance strategies is directly tied to funding, and the dependence of many non-profit organizations on government correctional monies to support the lifeblood of their agencies. Being fiscally responsible to the correctional system often requires more liberal and/or supportive organizations to forfeit, for example, a needs-based and/or harm-reduction approach for one that focuses on risk and security. The unfortunate result of this saturation is that community agencies, like the halfway house for women discussed here, increasingly exemplify an amplified reliance on surveillance, monitoring, and cross-reporting confirmation measures reflective of more traditional correctional social control schemas (see Maidment 2006a, 2006b).

4In this light, the halfway house actually facilitates the “fitting together” of cross-institutional arrangements (Lowman, Menzies and Palys 1987, 9), as frontline workers engage in a variety of governance strategies to ensure that women comply with the conditions of their parole and that contact with other control institutions is maintained. Women who fail to comply with their probation or parole orders, or with the rules of the halfway house, risk being reported to community supervision authorities (police or probation and parole officers), who may revoke their parole release and return them to prison. Increasing community/public surveillance/governance of criminalized persons not only exemplifies transcarceration, it also demonstrates how different spaces are produced, reproduced, and come to produce spaces that are simultaneously within and outside of the community.


5What Richard Ericson (2007) has called “Counter-Law” contributes to this transcarcerative effect by mediating the production of the halfway house as a “grey space.” Ericson conceptualizes “Counter-Law” to describe laws of an exceptional nature and their corresponding surveillance assemblages that aim to manage risky populations. Ericson has devised two forms of Counter-Law. The first, “Counter-Law I,” refers to new laws that “are enacted and new uses of existing laws [that] are invented to erode or eliminate traditional principles, standards, and procedures of criminal law that get in the way of pre-empting imagined sources of harm” (Ericson 2007, 24). Counter-Law I often reinforces criminalization as a political response to situations of uncertain risk, such as parole conditions. Criminalized women are typically identified as a risky population (see Carlen 2005 and Maidment 2006a), and their parole conditions often include, but are not limited to, residing in a halfway house, maintaining employment, attending counselling, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, non-association with individuals who have criminal records, taking prescribed medications, and obeying curfew. Although these acts or behaviours are by definition non-criminal, Counter-Law I, as it operates via parole conditions, effectively allows for these non-criminal acts to be exceptionally prohibited. In order to manage and/or reduce the potential risk of recidivism, women are subject to various forms of surveillance measures in the community (some of which will be discussed below).

6Ericson’s second form of Counter-Law, “Counter-Law II,” refers to “surveillance assemblages” deemed necessary subsequent to the enactment of Counter-Law I. “Actors of surveillance” from various institutions and organizations coordinate technologies and efforts in order to monitor the compliance of persons subject to Counter-Law I. For example, to monitor a woman’s compliance with her parole conditions, her activities are scrutinized and documented by parole officers, halfway house frontline workers, social workers, police officers, and doctors, who pass information to one another. These actors of surveillance scan for signs of non-compliance and use disciplinary responses to enforce Counter-Law. Surveillance is not limited to institutional surroundings, in this case the halfway house, but rather extends beyond carceral walls into public and private life. (While Ericson separates Counter-Law I from Counter-Law II, as we have outlined, we shall use the term “Counter-Law” to refer to the broader process in which the terms are related and have related effects.)

7Parole conditions as Counter-Law facilitate transcarceral linkages that form “institutional arrangements.” By collectively monitoring a woman’s compliance with her parole ordinances, carceral networks expand to encompass a diverse array of organizations that traditionally stand outside of the correctional arena. Communication between professionals generates a web of surveillance that allows for cross-governance of ex-prisoners as they move through different social spheres. Moreover, any location prohibited by a parole condition becomes subject to surveillance and is absorbed into the transcarceral net. In the context of the halfway house, frontline workers become the primary actors of surveillance as they supervise women’s compliance with their parole conditions both inside the house and in the community at large.


8Henri Lefebvre (1991) draws heavily on Marx to conceptualize space as reproducing capitalist political-economic relations, and argues that spaces are not pre-social or benign. He suggests that spaces both produce and are produced by the social relations, activities, politics, and movements that take place within the given space. Spaces are produced by the dynamic interaction of three elements: the conceptualization of space, the symbolic representations of space, and spatial practices. The combination of these elements contributes to the meanings that spaces assume and to the material experiences individuals have within different spaces. As planners, scientists, and social engineers conceptualize, create and recreate spaces, they become imbued with and shaped by different sets of ideologies and politics (see Zieleniec 2007). As such, knowledges and discourses that channel particular designs and intentions for the space come to generate symbolic representations that in turn reify the conceptual framing of the space. As Lefebvre puts it (1991, 39), the set of knowledges and discourses “overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects, and non-verbal codes, signs, and the physical and visual environment guide how the space is experienced.” Lefebvre’s theorization of space in relation to capitalist political economy helps in understanding the prison industrial complex and crime control as industry (see Christie 2000). However, this paper focuses primarily on the transcarceral effect of the production of space(s), and how different spaces are linked to the criminal justice system via cross-institutional arrangements and different surveillance assemblages.

9“Spatial practices” refer to the “physical and material flows (of groups, individuals, and commodities), circulations, transfers, and interactions that occur in and across space, structured in such a way as to assure social life is produced and reproduced,” encompassing the “experience of the circulation of goods, people, money, labour power, information, etc., which associates the ownership, use and designation of land within a hierarchy of administrative and organizational divisions of space, with an intrinsic element of social control (i.e. policing and surveillance)” (Zieleniec 2007, 72–73). Ultimately, spatial practices direct how space is used.

10If space is socially produced, then, “in addition to being a means of production, it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power” (Lefebvre 1991, 26). In our efforts to theorize transcarceral spaces, three spatial distinctions can be made.

11“Black space” is the product of the conceptualization and organization of spaces to deny liberty to groups of individuals. Criminal justice and risk discourses underscore the conceptualization of these spaces, and structure the everyday experiences and interactions of those who reside or pass through the black space. Symbolic representations include locked cells/rooms, constant surveillance by different actors (guards, frontline workers, treatment workers, and other administrators), the presence of weapons, and other disciplinary technologies such as the use of institutional uniforms, routines, and codes of conduct (see Foucault 1977). The prison as “a total institution” (see Goffman 1963) is akin to black space, as it combines governance with disciplinary and surveillance strategies that seek not only to punish prisoners, by removing their freedom, but also to reshape and reform them into good neoliberal subjects (see Carlen 2005). Other examples of black space include courtrooms, closed treatment facilities, closed-custody youth homes, and closedcustody mental health facilities.

12“White space” includes public and private areas not envisaged as carceral spaces. “The community” can be understood, albeit problematically, as a kind of white space where, while individuals are governed through their freedom (see Rose 1999), they possess the ability to make a variety of decisions about their lives and activities. Just as black spaces are not entirely un-free, since those who are deprived of their liberty find ways to resist and exert agency (see Foucault 1977; Bosworth and Carrabine 2001; Rhodes 2004; and Kilty 2008), it is obvious that there is no completely neutral, open, and/or free space, and that we are all governed, for example by law, social orders, gender performances, and cultural mores. However, while all spaces are governable and permit or limit certain social practices (see Zieleniec 2007), “white spaces” typically do not have direct relationships with the criminal justice system, beyond traditional and generalized forms of police, security, and surveillance. While public and private spaces are often thought of as opposing one another, they can both be conceptualized as white spaces, in that they remain unattached to the criminal justice system and do not entertain unlimited public access (see von Hirsch and Shearing 2004). All white spaces are subject to governance strategies and surveillance measures to different degrees. For example, there are closed-circuit cameras and other forms of technology in most private and commercial spaces, police patrols on the streets, private security patrols in commercial and private residential spaces, hours of operation, and bylaws that allow private spaces to reject entry by certain persons. Nevertheless, symbolically, white space is marked by the freedom that citizens have to pass through or to use the space as it is designated. Symbolic representations of white space include private residences, public parks, transportation vehicles, streets and sidewalks, and private commercial spaces in which the public is universally invited to spend time. Some white spaces (typically public spaces) are symbolically marked by the presence or absence of time restrictions on potential use of the space (store/park hours), but also by the “openness” of use by the public.

13“Grey space” exists as a kind of hybrid between white and black spaces, which illustrates that a space can, at different times, symbolically represent a white, black, or grey space. Halfway houses, probation and parole offices, and open-custody facilities are examples of grey spaces. Halfway houses are named and conceptualized as “spaces in between” because they combine elements of community freedom with criminal justice regulations. They are hybrid spaces, shaped by both criminal justice/prison governance and community freedom, which demonstrates the contradictory and fragmented nature of grey space, and how it can simultaneously foster relations of inclusion and relations of exclusion. For instance, halfway houses exist as spaces within the community, where residents pass “freely,” albeit with limits/regulations regarding their activities beyond house boundaries. Yet at the same time they are spaces that are permanently bound by carceral affiliations and cross-institutional arrangements. Representations of space in the halfway house reflect both black and white spaces. While the physical space is residential, with private and shared bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen, other markings symbolic of black space include locks on cabinets, a closed-circuit camera at the entry to the residence, a secluded and locked staff office, and, most importantly, twenty-four-hour surveillance by frontline workers. These symbolic markings can be found in other public and quasi-public spaces, such as department stores, shopping centres, parking garages, and transportation hubs. However, the fact that house residents must answer to frontline workers, and can come to and go from their place of residence only in accordance with the regulations set for them by halfway house rules and Counter-Law strategies, marks halfway houses as a distinct space in tension, rather than as a space that may be reproduced to be either a white space or a grey space. The halfway house is, then, a hybrid space that is produced by and reinforces Counter-Law ordinances. It is therefore a transcarceral space, but is ambiguous, a space in transition, in which Counter-Law ordinances represent spatial practices.

14We can easily see the effect that Counter-Law has upon spatial practices when we consider that many criminalized persons have zonal restrictions, meaning that they are prohibited from passing through different public spaces—parks, schoolyards, shopping centres, personal residences—or even different streets or whole city areas. For example, women charged with solicitation or drug use are sometimes prohibited from being in areas known to play host to sex trade work and drug sales/use. Similarly, individuals convicted of sexual offences against children are commonly prohibited from being in parks, schoolyards or any other place where there is a likelihood that children will be present (see von Hirsch and Shearing 2004). Such Counter-Law strategies produce divisions between acceptable and prohibited spaces, and attempt to govern the individual’s spatial practices, circulation, and spatiality (see Zieleniec 2007). Consequently, certain white spaces become “grey-washed.”

15Counter-Law intrinsically ties halfway houses and other permanent grey spaces to the black spaces of the criminal justice system. However, in terms of the linkage between transcarceration and the social production of grey-washed spaces, we may consider transcarceration as analogous to an elastic band, which always encompasses fixed black spaces, yet also has a fluid boundary that can stretch outward in any direction to enclose different spaces, actors, and practices. As this boundary moves outward to include traditionally white spaces, the elastic band stretches and fades to grey around the newly enclosed and temporarily grey-washed space. While encompassed within this transcarceral boundary, spaces become grey-washed, but once the woman passes through and the boundary retracts, letting go the space, actor, and practice, the space returns to being a public/white/community space.


16The correctional philosophy underlying the halfway house is the concept of cascading, the idea that, with each move through the penal system, correctional authorities reduce a prisoner’s security level in order to offer incremental increases in freedom. It is from this notion of cascading that our discussion of black, white and grey spaces emerges. Thus, this typology rests on the discourses of governance advocated by the criminal justice system, which conceptualize the levels of freedom available within black, white and grey spaces. Correctional reintegration discourses idealize and essentialize these three spaces in order to fit them easily into reintegrative and parole release planning. However, it is important to note that black, white and grey spaces are not fixed, nor should they be conceptualized as always already mutually exclusive. Rather, these spaces can be produced and reproduced as one or as another, depending on the social actors crossing its boundaries and the different Counter-Law strategies that govern the individual as well as the space itself.

17In Ontario the halfway house is continually (re)produced as a grey space, due to its contractual relationship to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and the provincial Ministry of Corrections and Community Justice, via fiscal responsibilities, court-ordered mandates, and Counter-Law ordinances. This grey space may at first appear to be in a kind of correctional limbo, but, by adopting correctional discourses, the halfway house is produced and in turn produces an actively governed space, thus becoming permanently grey. While frontline workers may wish to engage in supportive social work, halfway houses are bound by correctional discourses that are underwritten with notions of risk—risk of substance use, risk of unsavoury associations, risk of failing to follow one’s correctional or parole release plan—all of which coalesce into the greatest potential risk, that of reoffending or recidivism (see Maidment 2006a, 2006b). This paper examines the responsibilities of frontline halfway house workers, the techniques they employ to do their work, and how these techniques actually stretch the boundaries of correctional control to produce grey-washed spaces.


18The physical space of the halfway house is highly governed. The permanent “greyness” of this space is evident in the ongoing surveillance of women’s movements, and in the limitations placed on their behaviours and activities within the house. By “movements” we mean the ways in which the women live and use this space. As it is a minimum-security institution, women do not require permission to move between rooms within the house, with the exception of the staff office. While there are no specific times allocated to specific activities (cooking, bathing, hobbies/recreation), “midnight is considered ‘quiet time’ and the women are expected to remain in their rooms—except [for] getting up for a glass of water or going to the washroom or something [of that nature]— in order to keep noise levels down so women can sleep” (Executive Director of the agency, personal communication). While this suggests a certain amount of “freedom” in the house, the women remain under twenty-four-hour surveillance by frontline staff members, who monitor whether or not the women’s actions and movements comply with both house rules and their conditions of parole. By virtue of Counter-Law ordinances, conduct that would otherwise be non-criminal—such as leaving the house without notice, missing curfew or being intoxicated—is considered to be in violation of house rules as well as the individual’s conditions of parole, and is therefore subject to criminal sanction. Where prisons and penitentiaries depend on the use of security technology (video cameras, security systems, and auto-locking systems on doors) to monitor prisoners, the halfway house relies on frontline workers to perform vigilant spatial practices in order to supervise and document the women’s movements within the house and in the community.

19Surveillance by frontline workers is primarily exercised via the spatial practice of record-keeping. Frontline workers are responsible for monitoring and recording how women spend their time. Records include information on all the activities of the women, both within and beyond the walls of the house—such as going to work, completing chores, taking medications, using drugs or alcohol (or being suspected of using them) or interacting with the other women in the house—as well as their physical and mental health, suspected or known criminal behaviour, and details on where they go any time they are out of the house. Details are kept in a general house logbook as well as in a separate file for each house resident, both of which are updated daily.

20This degree of documentation serves as a tool to monitor how women spend their time, whom they spend it with, and the places in which they spend it. Frontline staff noted that they attempt to record only “facts” in the logbook, “because it is a legal document that can be subpoenaed.” This type of supervision creates a detailed profile of each woman’s daily life, but the house logbook and the women’s individual files also form a legal archive that documents each woman’s compliance with her parole conditions. The collected information comprises a series of what we term “living documents” that are actively and continuously produced. These living documents give frontline staff the power to generate “truths” about the residents and events in the house. In practice, staff members have a great deal of discretion regarding what they write, and they often record behaviour that is suspected yet unverified. For instance, one staff member, Yvonne, explained to us:

If I suspect that that someone’s using drugs in the house, any sort of illicit type of behaviour, it’s written in the log with a note. The women also have their own files.… In there we would write something more detailed like “We know for sure they are smoking crack.” In the log book it would be suspected, but in their files I might write that I’m pretty sure.… You have to write everything that happens down, but my personal discretions comes in how much detail I put in.

21This documentation practice is extremely problematic, because women have limited avenues for recourse, making it unlikely that the statements recorded by frontline workers can or will be challenged. Surveillance in this form serves as a method of producing knowledge (see Haggerty and Ericson 2000) about house residents that may be used in different venues—probation or parole revocation, the courts, treatment access—and even in decisions regarding residential status and whether a woman is eligible to remain in the house or should be evicted. Some women have parole conditions that ban them from certain locations or contain non-association clauses, requiring frontline workers to monitor the women’s activities and movements beyond the halfway house and into the community. Therefore, any time a woman leaves the halfway house she must sign in and sign out, and provide frontline staff with the details of where she is going, whom she will be meeting, and the expected time of her return.

22When women are prohibited from going into the community unsupervised, staff members must accompany them to their appointments. Interacting with service providers in the community is key to fostering cross-institutional arrangements, as frontline workers become the first point of contact if a woman misses an appointment or violates her parole conditions while in the community. While it is not uncommon for prisoners to be escorted when on day parole, chaperoning ex-prisoners in the community reflects, yet again, the diffusion of carceral techniques into non-carceral spaces and places. In these instances, traditionally conceived public/white/community spaces are “greywashed” as the criminalized woman circulates through them.

23To be clear, we do not want to further stigmatize these women by describing them as if they themselves inherently stain a space grey. Rather, it is by reproducing public/white/community spaces as prohibited and governable that Counter-Law ordinances grey-wash spaces. However, grey-washing is not a permanent stain, so the Counter-Law that generates the grey-washing does not definitively change the original conceptualization or symbolic representations of the space. Counter-Law as a spatial practice is projected and temporarily inscribed onto spaces, dominating the space while those it is directed towards pass through it (see Zieleniec 2007). In this way, Counter-Law triggers an active grey-washing process that otherwise lies dormant while the woman is outside of the space. Those unattached to criminal justice prohibitions experience the same space unaffected and untouched by grey-washing. This demonstrates that the production of space can invoke inclusionary and exclusionary boundaries, as well as dissimilar meanings and experiences for those within a particular spatial domain (see Lefebvre 1991; and Zieleniec 2007). Thus, grey-washed spaces are temporary and fluid, and can shift, transform, and be produced or reproduced according to a number of potential factors.

24The spatial practices that govern spaces are, then, fundamentally bound up with time. Foucault suggested that, like space, time is classified and divided to allow for uninterrupted surveillance, writing that disciplinary technologies are “exercised according to a codification that partitions as closely as possible time, space, movement” (1977, 137). In the halfway house, spatial practices limit the women’s movements within specific locales according to curfews and other designations of time. The use of timetables and routines, and the overall documentation of time, allow for more effective control by actors of surveillance. One staff member commented on this aspect of the relentless documentation of time as follows:

[The logbook], it’s detailed, it’s very detailed, it has everybody’s like, when they leave, when they come back, when they are due back.… They are even supposed to tell us when they go down for a cigarette and they have to check in with us when they come back.… Yeah, if they want to go out then they have to ask, and tell me when they are coming back. I am supposed to get details of where they are going, and get the address, and they have to call in, and check in if they change location.

25Surveillance and documentation together reinforce the principles that time should be spent appropriately, as defined by the designated actors of surveillance, and that it should be monitored exhaustively, meaning that no time is unaccounted for or considered idle (see Foucault 1977). Clearly, time is central to the frontline workers’ efforts to govern the women’s movements (see Brown 1998). In no instance is this more evident than in the case of enforcing a curfew, which “varies from woman to woman dependent upon their parole or probation conditions. The house enforces those conditions” (Executive Director of the agency, personal communication). Yvonne explains: “Federally sentenced women have very strict [conditions]. If they are not home ten minutes after their curfew, we have to call police, and they are breached and they go back to jail.” Participants explained that breaching curfew is one of the most common parole violations that results in federally sentenced women being charged and returned to prison. Further, if a woman leaves the house without notifying staff, she is considered “absent without leave” and staff members must notify the police so that charges can be laid. In this light, simply being absent from the boundaries of the halfway house and being spatially unknown for a period of time can be a criminal offence. In the context of the halfway house, time becomes a disciplinary technology used to govern house residents through their freedom in their efforts to come and go (semi)freely (see Rose 1999). Time contributes to the production of the halfway house as a grey space, as it is the main parameter through which frontline workers engage in the spatial practices used to govern house residents, who become simultaneously part of the community and apart from it.

26Not only do frontline workers govern how and where women spend their time, they also engage in other key carceral control strategies, namely, the medicalization of criminalized women. Given the ongoing correctional reliance on psychiatric discourses and medications, it is not surprising that halfway house workers have adopted psy-medical language in their discursive production of criminalized women. In so doing, we theorize how this cross-institutional arrangement has both grey-washed medical spaces and medicalized the halfway house space, as well as how mental health governance in the halfway house exists as a spatial practice exercised by frontline workers.


27More than being transcarceral, governance strategies are actually transinstitutional. For instance, critical criminologists have long discussed the intersection of the institutions of criminal justice and mental health care (see Cohen 1985; and Rhodes 1994, 2005). However, as a result of transcarceration, the boundaries of each institution, and the ways in which they approach interacting with, helping, treating, rehabilitating and governing those with whom they come into contact, have blurred (see Cohen 1985). Frontline workers in the halfway house adopt psymedical discourses as their work roles now require that they act as psy-medical administrators. For example, as contractually required by the CSC and as outlined in halfway house policy, all prescription medications for the residents is in the possession of the house staff, meaning that it is kept under lock and key in the staff office. As with the detailed recordand logbook-keeping regarding the women’s movements, the medication policy for the halfway house states:

Before medication is distributed to a woman, the Women’s Binder, Medication section, is consulted to check on the last dosage (time, date, and number of pills given). As soon as medication is given, the time, date, and number of pills given is recorded on the appropriate form in the Women’s Binder.

28While the house medication policy also maintains that each woman is to “self-administer” her medication, staff members supervise the taking of all drugs, including over-the-counter medications, which must be taken in the staff office in the presence of a staff member. This means not only that frontline workers are in possession of, and determine access to, all medications, but also that they are required to ensure that the women are “self-administering” the correct dosage of the medication. Due to the cross-institutional arrangements between psychiatric and correctional discourses and practices, the psychologyrelated work of frontline staff members contributes to the production of the halfway house as a permanent grey space. Like the power struggle that occurs between psychiatric professionals and women in prison (see Horii 2000; Kendall 2000; Pollack and Kendall 2005; and Pollack 2006), house staff members actualize psychiatric medication and care as an avenue for strategic governance, where failure to comply with house or parole regulations calls for breach of parole and subsequent reimprisonment:

I give it to them and they have to take it in the office, because they have psychotropic drug issues. On one of my first shadow shifts, a woman tried to take her meds out of the office, and the woman I was shadowing was like, “She has to take them in the office,” and the woman was mad, she was like, “Ahhh, it’s my medication, why can’t I just take them wherever I want?” Well, there’s rules for a reason.… You don’t feel a sense of authority until you see that you have to lay the law down.

29In order to monitor the women’s consumption of medications, staff members count the number of pills in each bottle each night to ensure that there are no inconsistencies. One staff member, Veronica, stated that this practice of counting medications is “to ensure the safety of the women and for liability reasons, you know, so no one accuses staff of stealing medication.” From Veronica’s perspective, the meticulous documentation of medications is a governance mechanism that fosters bidirectional surveillance and creates a hypervisible medications process that deters drug misuse and also protects staff from accusations of wrongdoing. Documenting psy-medical information in such a thorough manner has four important outcomes. First, this process generates a living record of the administration of all drugs in the house. Second, it ensures the posterity of staff reputations. Third, it allows staff to monitor the health and safety of the house residents. Fourth, it creates a false sense of personal responsibilization of the women in taking their own medications. In this way, residents of the halfway house are governed through their freedom (see Rose 1999) to be agreeable and compliant residents and patients of psychiatric care. The living record is a biopolitical technology or regulatory control that is always already active, changing, and being produced and reproduced as a practice of biopower (see Foucault 1978; and Rabinow and Rose 2006). It provides halfway house workers with a technology of discipline that encourages the women to regulate their psychiatric and medical health according to psychiatric and correctional mandates, which in turn ensures that staff members maintain their identities as arbiters of psychiatric expertise.

30The practice of disallowing the women the right to retain and dispense their own medication reflects the infiltration of the correctional zeal for medicalizing criminalized women through two different community based systems of control: the halfway house medication reporting policy, and probation and/or parole conditions. Mandating women to continue taking psychiatric medication as a parole condition places frontline workers in the precarious position of being both counsellors and parole informants. If a woman refuses her medication, frontline staff members are expected to report her refusal to the woman’s parole and/or probation officer. This parole condition ensures a certain degree of correctional control over how mental health care for criminalized women is exercised, while simultaneously denying the women agency regarding how they choose to address their own mental health concerns. It is this interconnection between criminal justice and psy-medical expertise and discourse that at times medicalizes the grey space of the halfway house, and also grey-washes medicalized spaces as women pass through them in the community.

31The ongoing and ever-increasing reliance of corrections on psychiatric care in the form of prescription psychiatric medications (see Rhodes 2004; and Kilty, forthcoming) has important implications for the production of medicalized and grey/grey-washed spaces in the community. We found that halfway house staff members are not only accepting of psychiatric diagnoses, they actively engage with psychiatric knowledges as though they themselves are psychiatric experts. For example, when questioned about the different roles she is required to play as a frontline worker, Ellie referenced her multiple responsibilities:

You know, sometimes I feel like I’m a doctor, a nurse, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, all in one. Because I have to be quick, right, and sometimes women need to be explained that… “This would be a good medication for you to start on.” Like I’m really good with meds, um, I’ve worked for ten years in a mental health shelter, supportive housing for women, so I’ve got a really good base on meds, so I pretty much know, I’m not a doctor, but I’m telling you, maybe I should be, sometimes I’m better than the doctors themselves. This morning I made an appointment for a woman… to change her meds ’cause she’s not doing well and she needs her meds recalibrated.

32Despite the fact that the house medications policy directly states, “Staff members are not trained medical professionals and cannot make medically-based decisions,” staff adopt the role of health and mental health care advisers and administrators. Unfortunately, due to the lack of community resources, workers in this halfway house have become Jacks of all trades in terms of service provision. In the halfway house setting, the transinstitutional connection between correctional and psy-medical discourses and practices manifests the medicalization of this grey space, in particular, the staff office where medications are kept under lock and key, and where staff members must witness and document the women taking their medications. Transcarceration evolves in different ways. Here, this transinstitutional connection helps to produce a hypervisible medicalized space within the walls of a permanent grey space.

33The Counter-Law ordinances that require some women to engage with psychiatric interventions are technologies of disciplinary power that work both to reproduce the halfway house as a permanent grey space, but also to grey-wash medicalized spaces in the community—such as substance treatment centres, methadone clinics, doctor’s offices that conduct urinalysis, and counselling and other psychological/psychiatric spaces—as the women circulate through them. Subsequently, this instance of transinstitutionalization also effectively grey-washes psymedical discourses and practices in the halfway house space, which not only medicalize women, but also generate biopower as a mechanism of ongoing surveillance and recording of psy-medical knowledges pertaining to the population.

34The halfway house exists as a space in tension. Ultimately, psychiatric interventions, including prescription medication, remain a key component of prisoner governance. Medication orders are an important part of correctional Counter-Law strategies that push the boundaries of transcarceration outward to include psycho-medico discourses and practices. The extensive use of psychiatric medication echoes from prison to community control strategies, existing as a technology of disciplinary power that assists in creating a broader transcarceral environment. This linkage between psychiatry and corrections further entrenches psychiatric care via medicalization as the preeminent form of intervention for criminalized women, to the point where correctional and community “authorities” rarely envision psychiatric care in any other form.


35In this brief paper we have outlined not only how halfway houses for women exiting prison exist as extensions of carceral control, but how frontline workers actually facilitate the diffusion of decentralized control through their surveillance, governance, and disciplinary strategies, which are similar to those exercised in prison. Exemplifying our claim are the myriad roles that frontline workers fulfil in the realm of supervision, and their ability to shift between responsibilities as support workers, counsellors, correctional liaisons, and medical administrators or advisers. We also found that increasingly demanding probation and parole orders require intense surveillance of house residents by frontline workers, both inside the halfway house and in the community. More to the point, the mandated use of psychiatric medications illustrates the ongoing zeal for medicalizing women even after their release from prison. As a result of these Counter-Law strategies, many non-criminal actions are criminalized and sanctioned. Indeed, interviewees reported that many of the house residents are unable to complete their time without breaching their conditions. The majority of them are charged for non-crime-related violations, a persistent fact for criminalized women in the community (see Belcourt et al. 1993; and John Howard Society of Alberta 2001).

36As a result of transcarceration and transinstitutionalization, released women are denied agency in much the same way that women in prison are. For example, they are not able to refuse psychiatric medications if it is a parole condition that they continue taking them. Ultimately, Counter-Law and governance strategies define the parameters of these women’s movements and choices in their everyday lives, even in the most mundane situations. The ability to assert agency is therefore usurped and replaced with a regulatory system where women are relegated to a decision-making position subordinate to that of the institutional powers that be. By reproducing community spaces as grey or grey-washed spaces, transcarceration obliges women to remain dependent on care/control actors of surveillance for lengthier periods of time. Women living in halfway houses are unable to come and go “freely,” despite their release from prison, illustrating the fact that the boundaries of any given space are at once binding and governable, permeable and penetrable, and ultimately inclusionary and exclusionary.


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Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology and Department of Social Science of Health, University of Ottawa (

Doctoral student, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University (

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