Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The barbaric nature of prisons-- Prisons need to be abolished

- Prisons are barbaric because they all treat individuals in an uncivilized, a dishonourable, way. This society, like all other Western societies and indeed all societies in the world, accepts prisons, and regards them as necessary.

- Prisons are inhuman because they use the tactics of the cowardly bully; that is, they are based upon the law of the bully: those who have power (the Prison guards, the Prison officials such as the Governor) demand that prisoners do what they are told or they will suffer. And those in power have the right, the authority, to use whatever force they deem necessary to enforce their will. Thus, if someone does not “behave” and do as they are told and live in the degrading way which all prisons demand, then they can be physically subdued, thrown into a special punishment cell, and punished by being given a longer prison sentence. Quite often, such troublesome inmates are physically attacked by the guards: “to teach them a lesson and show them who is the boss”. This is ignoble; it is barbaric.

- Successive governments have accepted and condoned this barbarism, this institutional bullying. In the so-called “democratic” countries of the West, this bullying is most often a moral type of blackmail: “Do what we say and you will be released from Prison early. Disobey us, and we will keep you in Prison for longer.” But even in these countries there is often real bullying, real physical intimidation of inmates, by both guards and fellow prisoners.
Prison is an affront to human dignity; it is denial of the most fundamental rights of a human being. Prisons treat people like animals: caging them; punishing those who “misbehave” and rewarding those who do what they are told

- The system only works because the inmates know that they are powerless: any attempt at rebellion will be swiftly put down by extreme, brutal and if necessary lethal force, as has happened many times in the past. So the inmates are cowered into submission, into accepting, year after year after year, the degrading way of life which exists in all Prisons.
The conditions inside modern Prisons in our society may be better than in the past – plentiful food, warmth and so on – but otherwise Prisons are still barbaric, primitive institutions based upon the law of the bully and dedicated to enforcing the dictates, the authority, of the government of the day. Prisons have made bullying into an art.

- Whatever a person has done – or is alleged to have done – nothing justifies this institutionalized bullying, this inhuman, degrading treatment.
No society which accepts and condones Prisons can call itself a civilized society. It is uncivilized, inhuman, for a society to accept and condone the concept, the idea, of forcefully punishing a person for doing what that society has made “illegal” through some law or laws. The whole concept, the idea, of some government, some Institution, exacting “retribution” from a person by confining them to Prison is uncivilized.

- No words are too strong to condemn the idea of Prison, and the barbaric system of retribution, of “criminal law”, which underlies all modern societies. For these societies are based upon the primitive uncivilized idea that people cannot fundamentally change, and should seldom if ever be given a “second chance”.

- The civilized way, the human way, is for those found guilty of some wrongful deed to be given a choice between: (1) making amends in some way, through voluntary work in the community or through compensating their victims or victims financially, which may involve the offender working in a job for a set period and giving most of their earnings to the victim or victims; (2) exile, that is, through leaving the society and making a new life for themselves somewhere else.

- That is, the civilized way, the human way, is to respect the dignity of the person, whatever that person has done or is alleged to have done: to still allow them a choice; to still allow them to be free; and most important of all to allow for them to change themselves for the better through honest hard work.

- The very foundation of civilized life is freedom: the ability of the individual to be free, to have a choice; to be able to decide their own fate. And it is this freedom, and the honour and dignity which goes with it, that society has taken away with its primitive idea of punitive punishment, of primative retribution, and its primitive institution of Prison.
It must be repeated: Whatever a person has done – or is alleged to have done – nothing justifies this institutionalized bullying, this inhuman, degrading treatment.
What is uncivilized is to deprive an individual of their freedom, for however short a time: to force them, either physically through superior force, or morally through moral blackmail, to do as they are told.

- What is uncivilized is to forcefully restrain a person: to fetter them in any way, through handcuffs, or chains, or any form of restraint, including the use of “medicines”. To do this, is to treat a human being like an animal: it is to deny their human status.
Such a use of force, such a taking away of the liberty of the individual, is barbaric.

The Modern Idea of Rehabilitation of Offenders
Of course, most modern societies have tried in some ways to move toward the “rehabilitation of offenders” but this is mostly done within the Prison system. That is, the bullying, undignified way of life of Prisons is still the basis for dealing with offenders. All that has been done is to try and give those in Prison some training, some skills, so that when they are released, they may stand a better chance of getting a job.
The fundamental way of dealing with offenders is still the same as it was: the severe punishment of removing them from society, from their family and friends, and condemning them to live as caged animals. Well fed, and sometimes “well treated” by their guards, but nonetheless still caged like animals, and still treated according to the law of the bully.

- We need to consider what is in society's best interests when deciding on a sentence. 
- Prison does not deter or reduce crime in any way and actually causes increased re-offending. 
- Prisons are uncivilized in that they deprive individuals of their freedoms and liberty and rights. 
- The only thing prison does effectively, is teach individuals how to conform to the norms and values inside prison. 
- It is applied unfairly, as Aboriginals and other visible minorities are sentenced more harshly, which is why they are disproportionately over-represented in prisons.
- Those in power, the ruling class, decide what is deemed to be "illegal" and it criminalizes those in the lower classes. 
- It is degrading. 
- It is simply a quick fix, not a long term solution to the root causes of crime. 
- With imprisonment, justice is not served as the victim is not involved. With restorative justice, the victim and offender can be involved. 
- Prisons are the schools of crime, and when released, individuals have higher recidivism rates.
- Prisons DO NOT address the underlying causes and factors contributing to crime such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, negative peer influences, addictions, abuse, neglect, etc. 
- When offenders are released, they are released back into the same social and economic conditions which caused their criminal behaviour in the first place, therefore, causing more crime. 
- Inmates become "institutionalized" because they must follow a rigid schedule and therefore, have difficulty with decision making and reintegration. 
- When the courts over-rely on prisons as a sentence, overcrowding occurs. This leads to increased aggressiveness, hostility, violence and stress among inmates, increasing the probability to re-offend when released. 
- Prisons do NOT reduce or deter crime in any way.
- Prisons draw on the rational choice theory and assume that individuals are free thinking, rational individuals who weigh the costs and benefits of their behaviour, which is completely untrue. 
- Pro-criminal attitudes, values and behaviours exist in prisons, causing more crime.
- Gangs and drugs are prevalent in prisons
- It is cruel that inmates are separated from their families and friends. 
- Prisons are not a proportionate sentence due to mandatory minimum sentencing (where all offenders are treated the same, with the same punishment, when really, offenders and their crimes are all very different and each have unique circumstances. MMS limits judicial discretion in considering all aggravating and mitigating circumstances in deciding on an appropriate and fair sentence). 

QUESTION: If prisons and policing aren’t the answers, then what?
The answer lies in developing systems of harm prevention and when harm still occurs, because it will, systems of accountability and ways to address the causes of the harm that do not rely on the failed, back end response of locking someone up.
Even the most horrendous forms of harm do not happen without a reason. Awareness of why harm occurred is the first step in preventing future harms. For example, we know that people who commit acts of harm often have been harmed themselves in the past. We also can not see individual acts of harm in isolation, as disconnected with the larger the world, the social and economic conditions that lead to harm.
Abolition does not mean that we don’t hold people accountable for their actions. But punishment creates the opposite of accountability — a sense of social isolation instead of responsibility to others. If anything, punishment makes future harm more likely since it encourages people to lash out. People who have seriously harmed another need appropriate forms of support, supervision and social and economic resources.
We don’t claim to have all the answers. In reality, we know that the dominance of prisons as an response to harm has kept many alternatives from developing. But we also do know that alternatives exist. In post-apartheid South Africa, for example, rather than try, punish and potentially imprison those who had done harm to others under apartheid, the new government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission heard testimony of people who took responsibility for their actions and were held accountable without imprisonment. While the system may not have functioned perfectly, it does provide an alternative model for even horrendous offenses such as the genocide that occurred under apartheid.

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