Grieving Prison Death
The prison is a repressive apparatus that underpins settler-colonial capitalism in Aotearoa, a site for the collection and containment of bodies abjected from the social formation. When a person dies in prison, their death can expose some of the worst excesses of the current mode of production and immiseration. This thesis grapples with what it means to grieve the death of the prisoner. Interrogating 108 coroners’ findings into deaths in New Zealand prisons, it outlines the material conditions of confinement leading to people’s deaths, as well as the state’s attempt to come to terms with these deaths. Framed within the work of Judith Butler, the Department of Corrections enacts routine practices upon the bodies of the deceased that constitute dehumanising norms. Alongside the vilification and abjection of the prisoner, these norms establish that the prisoner is not recognisable as fully human. As a result of a security context that exacerbates the vulnerability of prisoners for the benefit of those worthy of protection, prisoners are placed in positions of extreme precarity. The material practices that reinforce the inhumanity of prisoners and increase their level of precarity establish, before the prisoner’s death, that the prisoner’s life is not a life worthy of living. Grieving the death of the prisoner requires the recognition of prisoners as fully human, which is not possible within a normative context that necessitates their dehumanisation. Thus, to grieve the death of the prisoner, there must be a material transformation of these dehumanising practices, and the normative social conditions in which they are necessitated. As those normative practices, and the prison itself, are so entrenched in settler-colonial capitalism, mourning the death of the prisoner requires much more than the coroners can conceive.