Promoting pirate prisons: exploring the intersections of narratives, media, and criminal justice reform in East Africa

  • Brittany Gilmer
  • Caroline Comerford


In March of 2011, several news media outlets published articles announcing the opening of a “pirate prison” in the northwest region of Somalia. Over the next five years, news articles about East African prisons holding piracy prisoners en masse were among the few ways in which the public came to know pirate prisons—what they look like, who they punish, and how they punish. Our analysis of the text and imagery in news articles about these prisons reveals that pirate prison narratives reflects the unique political, social, and economic issues of each location. The geographically-specific narratives are created, promoted, and in some cases silenced by different actors and entities to shape public perception of pirate prisons and motivate funding decisions. This case study aims to theorize what these pirate prison narratives tells us more broadly about the complexities underlying the promotion of criminal justice reforms in the media and the political economy of punishment in East Africa. We contend that the production and maintenance of particular pirate prison narratives helps various actors and agencies maximize benefits tied to a broader penal market where piracy prisoners are detained and transferred in exchange for development aid.


  1. 1.
    Bueger, C. (2013). Practice, pirates and coast guards: The grand narrative of Somali piracy. Third World Quarterly, 34(10), 1811–1827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gilmer, B. (2016a). Hedonists and husbands: Piracy narratives, gender demands, and local political economic realties in Somalia. Third World Quarterly, 38(6), 1366–1380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hansen, S. J. (2011). Debunking the piracy myth. The RUSI Journal, 6(156), 26–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Brown, M. (2009). The culture of punishment: Prison, society, and spectacle. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ayres, T., & Jewkes, Y. (2012). The haunting spectacle of crystal meth: A media-created mythology? Crime, Media Culture, 8(3), 315–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Greer, C., Ferrell, J., & Jewkes, Y. (2007). It’s the image that matters: Style, substance, and critical scholarship. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(1), 5–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Linnemann, T., Hanson, L., & Williams, S. (2013). ‘With scenes of blood and pain’: Crime control and the punitive imagination of the meth project. British Journal of Criminology, 53, 605–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hayward, K., & Presdee, M. (2010). Framing crime: Cultural criminology and the image. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ferguson, M., Piche, J., & Walby, K. (2015). Bridging or fostering social distance? An analysis of penal spectator comments on Canadian penal history museums. Crime, Media, Culture, 11(3), 357–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Bernault, F. (2003). A history of prison and confinement in Africa (ed.). Porstmouth: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Opolot, J. S. E. (1995). The crime problem in Africa: A wake-up call of the 1960s–1990s. Houston: Univers de Presse.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Elkins, C. (2005). Imperial reckoning: The untold story of Britain’s gulag in Kenya. New York: Owl Books.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gillespie, K. (2008). Moralizing security: ‘Corrections’ and the post-apartheid prison. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 2(1), 69–87.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Mbembe, A. (2003). Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15, 11–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Agozino, B. (2003). Counter-colonial criminology: A critique of imperialist reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Walmsley R (2016) World prison population list. Report, International Centre for Prison Studies, 10th ed. Available at: Accessed 13 March 2018
  17. 17.
    Jefferson, A., & Martin, T. (2016). Prisons in Africa. In Y. Jewkes, J. Bennett, & B. Crewe (Eds.), Handbook on prisons (pp. 423–440). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Jefferson, A., & Martin, T. (2014). Special edition: Everyday prison governance in Africa. Prison Service Journal, 212, 2–3.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Martin, T. (2014). Reasonable caning and the embrace of human rights in Uganda prisons. Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 68, 68–82.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Gilmer, B. (2016b). Somali piracy prisoners and biopolitical penal aid. Punishment & Society, 19(1), 115–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Colonnello, P. (2012, August 3). A pirate’s prison tucked inside Secyhelles paradise. La Stampa. paradise-L12dnMpnUxsc0Ehn6WdyIP/pagina.html. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  22. 22.
    Collins, V. (2012). Dangerous seas: Moral panic and the Somali pirate. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 45(1), 106–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Keenan, J. (2014, March 20). Puntland is for pirates. Foreign policy. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  24. 24.
    Ferguson, J. (2011, April 20). Life inside Somaliland’s pirate prison. CNN. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  25. 25.
    Afrol News. (2011, February 8). Somaliland opens “pirate prison”. Afrol News. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  26. 26.
    defenceWeb. (2011, March 31). Somaliland’s first pirate prison formally opened by the united nations. defenceWeb. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  27. 27.
    Scarr, D. (2000). Seychelles since 1770: A history of slave and post-slavery society. London: Hurst.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Pflanz, M. (2012, February 21). Britain’s anti-piracy ‘conveyor belt’ stretches from Somalia to Seychelles and back. The Telegraph. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  29. 29.
    Eager, C. (2012, October 20). Our man in the Seychelles who’s locking up the pirates of the Indian Ocean—but why is Britain spending a fortune on a jail in paradise? Mail Online. Seychelles-whos-locking-pirates-Indian-Ocean.html. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  30. 30.
    Denselow, A. (2013, May 19). Seychelles cells: The Somali pirates ‘jailed in paradise’. BBC News. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  31. 31.
    Maritime Executive. (2012, November 19). UNODC chief visits Seychelles’ pirate prisoners. The Maritime Executive. seychelles-pirate-prisoners#gs.tc2tQeU. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  32. 32.
    (UNODC) United Nations Office for Programme Services & (UNOPS) United Nations Office for Programme Services. (2014). Press Release: President of Puntland inaugurates major new prison facility in Garowe, Puntland. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  33. 33.
    Radlicki, M. (2014, December 31). Hip, hip, hooray! 10 significant projects that were completed in Africa in 2014. Mail & Guardian. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  34. 34.
    Abdirahman, A. (2014, April 4). Somalia: Prisoners escape from Bosaso jail. Horseed Media. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  35. 35.
    Harding, A. (2015, August 31). Somalia warns of return to piracy. BBC News. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  36. 36.
    GaroweOnline. (2014, July 3). Somalia: Puntland MPs tour pirate prison in Garowe, Garowe editor-in-chief responds to govt. GaroweOnline. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  37. 37.
    Siddique, H. (2014, April 7). Briton among two United Nations workers shot dead in Somalia. The Guardian. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  38. 38.
    Knaup, H. (2011, June 16) Somalia’s piracy problem: Robbery on the high seas too lucrative to refuse. Spiegel Online. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  39. 39.
    Langfitt, F. (2011, April 13). Somaliland struggles in effort to fight piracy. NPR. piracy. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  40. 40.
    (UNODC) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2016, February 19). Foundation stone laid in ceremony at future Mogadishu Prison Court Complex. UNODC. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  41. 41.
    Mulgrew, R. (2017). The role of oversight in foreign-national only prisons: Counteracting the disapplication of rehabilitation. Crime, Law and Social Change, 70(1), 77–16. Scholar
  42. 42.
    (UNODC) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2017, January 16). First UN manual to address violent extremism in prisons launched by UNODC. UNODC. Accessed 14 March 2018.
  43. 43.
    Brisson-Boivin, K., & O’Connor, D. (2013). The rule of law, security-development and penal aid: The case of detention in Haiti. Punishment & Society, 15(5), 515–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Iturralde, M. (2016). Colombian prisons as a core institution of authoritarian liberalism. Crime, Law and Social Change, 65(3), 137–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Padfield, N. (2017). Monitoring prisons in England and Wales: Who ensures the fair treatment of prisoners? Crime, Law and Social Change., 70, 57–76. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology & Criminal JusticeThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology & Criminal JusticeFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations