This article posits a materialist critique of recent penal transformations in the current context of the Spanish debtfare. The so called financial crisis has affected the economic structures, while reinforcing the symbiotic dimension of State-corporate power, and expanding punishment beyond the penal sphere – across most areas of public policing.
Recent Spanish history provides a good example of how penal policies and institutions can adapt to major changes in the accumulation regime. The on-going change of paradigm in some Northern-peripheral countries might be turning the post-welfare model – neoliberal prisonfare based on seclusion – to a debtocratic regime – painfare based on expulsion. The first boosted prison populations in the name of security. The latter unfolds through the ultimate collapse of social rights and the resort to expulsion as the paramount feature of capitalist deployment. All these effects take place in Spain, hence the need to shift the focus from ‘penal punishment’ (stricto sensu) towards a broader perspective on punishing through public policies, namely a new punitive normal – including penal and extra-penal punitive control devices. After the great recession of 2007-08 and the beginning of austerity policies in Spain, this broad expression of punitivism has grown, while resort to incarceration has taken a break: prison population has declined by 22 percent in Spain since 2010, while exclusion has amplified its expressions in both qualitative and quantitative terms. Therefore, the core thesis of this article might be summed up by the image of a social rule of law that turns into general administration of punishment, just in the period (2010-17) when prison population experiences its first reduction in the last 30 years.