Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 July 2021
In the late 1920s, at the same time as the centralization of Iran’s legal system, the nascent Pahlavi state inaugurated a carceral system and imaginary in which modern prisons were promoted as necessary and progressive solutions to myriad social crises. In this era, Pahlavi statesmen and law enforcement officials attended conferences on policing and prisons in Europe, drawing architectures and techniques of punishment from those sources and working to dramatically expand Iran’s carceral system. This chapter examines state discourses on the prison in the aftermath of legal centralization and argues the mid-century Iranian government claimed its new-look prison system as a success story in its modernizing efforts. By vastly expanding Iran’s prison system and extolling the social virtues of its penal factories and literacy classes, the Pahlavi government marked the prison as a space of rehabilitation in which the bad criminal could be reformed into the good citizen, normalizing the incarceration of increasing numbers of Iranians in the process. This chapter also examines the establishment of the academic field of criminology in Iran, which emerged at the same time as these state-led reform efforts. Charting the rise of social scientific debates on crime and punishment, this chapter argues that this new academic discipline mapped onto the state’s modernizing sentiments regarding productivity, citizenship, rehabilitation, and modern progress.