In Fabrication of Virtue (1982), Robin Evans famously located “an instrumental relationship between architecture and morality” in the emergence of the prison as a punishment in the eighteenth-century. This “moral geography” is open for scrutiny in this themed issue of Space and Culture. The severe environment of super max “cold storage” (Human Rights Watch, 1997), and long periods on death row, challenge a straightforward distinction between life and death, and an uncompromising experience of interiority. These are counter to the open prisons of Scandinavia. Home detention also seemingly constrains in a less geographically-isolating fashion, but equally uses spatial (and temporal) confinement as a punitive mechanism. Simultaneously, in The Netherlands, former prisons have been converted into refugee housing – as they experience significant reduction in their need for incarceration, while in the US, the television programme 60 Days In represents prison as a reality TV set.

The persistence of incarceration, and its image as an ultimate punishment, is despite criminology pointing to the failure of prison to deter crime or support rehabilitation and the reintegration of former inmates into the community. In this context of what has been identified as an era of “new punitiveness” (Pratt et al, 2005), Space and Culture asks for contributions – from any discipline – which explore the spaces and cultures that sustain the societal impetus for architecture to be a punishment.