Karagiannidis Abolitionism and Prison

«What is to be done about criminals? Here is a criminal question that perpetuates the trap we (the abolitionists) do not want to fall; the eternal rejection of the individual.»

Catherine Baker, «Does the Abolition of Prison mean the abolition of justice, law and all society?», Second International Conference on Prison Abolition, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 1985

If it true that prisons are in fact the weights and measures of freedom, dignity and humanity that characterise our society, it is obvious that we must do something with these prisons.
The disciplinary authority (power) covers all the sides of capitalist system and among them is of course prison (Foucault, 1991). The disciplinary authority in question, reticulates the entirety of social relations, therefore even «criminal» ones (Dimopoulos, 1989). Thus, the contemporary punishing function of penal law aims not only at the harmonisation of «crime» with the penal threat of punishment, but also at the penal and social control of individuals. The idea of treatment and handling of «criminals», for example, had more and more been used for their submission in a regime of total control, if we take into account that this «treatment» often lasts longer than their rehabilitation and social re-incorporation demand (Dimopoulos, 1989). And despite the fact that prison system is a fiasco (Scham, 1996) «this fiasco is to a large extend maintained as a secret... Prison is still maintained as a major way of solving conflicts as if it were effective and just» (Mathiesen, 1990).
Imprisonment is the principal form of punishment in every criminal justice system and punishment is institutional violence, for it constitutes restrictions on prisoner's rights and repression of his basic needs by legal or illegal actions from a legal or de facto representatives of an authority (Baratta, 1989). The cause for the heavy reliance and the emphasis of criminal justice system was successfully localised and analysed on a solid Marxist socio-political basis by Rusche and Kirchheimer and (1968: 68-69 see also Mathiesen, 1990: 36);

«Of all the forces which are responsible for the new emphasis upon imprisonment as a punishment, the most important was the profit motive, both in the narrower sense of making the establishment pay in the wider sense of making the whole penal system a part of the state's mercantilist program».

Moreover, in all critical moments in our history, periods of civil disobedience and lurch of the establishment, prison functioned as a suitable political instrument for mass intimidation, subversion and terror against working class people (Christie, 1981).
It is true that nowadays conditio sine qua non of every criminal policy is prison: it is the essential counterbalance, the ontological towards the structured, the specific towards the abstract. Primarily criminal justice system socialises the concept of crime via indictment and, secondarily, the «criminal» himself via imprisonment; respect for hierarchy, blind obedience, permissible occupations, compulsory labour, deprivations and so on. As the abolitionist Catherine Baker poetically licence put it «prison is not the disease of our days and does not have anything monstrous; it is simply the capping-stone for every society and every social framework of social affairs» (Baker, 1992: 14). Tout court, penal sanction is essential for the maintenance of their «law and order».

«We all have realise that there will never be a society without law and order. We have realise the seriousness of the situation so clear that we strengthen the bars and guillotine of our minds. Like crazy we naturally ask for state's authority guardianship to our lives because we consider ourselves totally ³irresponsible² and ³uncountable². But the State is just a machine, a mechanism in an even more outrageous thing pay; behind state there is human willingness. Human is there accompanied by his law. Down with human!» (Baker, 1992: 14).

In his remarkable work, «Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison» Michel Foucault observed that «the penitentiary technique and the delinquent is are in a sense twin brothers» and elegantly concluded that (Foucault, 1991: 255);

«It is said that the prison fabricated delinquents; it is true that it brings back, almost inevitably, before the courts those who have been there. But it also fabricates them in the sense that it has introduced into the operation of the law and the offence, the judge and the offender, the condemned man and the executioner, the non-corporal reality of the delinquency, that links them together and, for a century and a half, has caught them in the same trap.»

But what is also true, is that, despite the heavy reliance of criminal justice system on prison, trial, conviction and imprisonment are in no way an «one way street». As Mark Poster observed in Foucault's outstanding work «... Foucault's depiction of Damiens' suffering convinces one that a system of punishment other than our system is possible» (Poster, 1984: 98). And it is exactly this other «way», the other system of «punishment» that abolitionists have dreamed of; a system that would encourage and strengthen the conciliatory possibilities among litigants (Christie, 1977), on condition that we would overstep the dichotomic logic of penal law (Christie, 1981).
However, we should recognise two elements of historical success for prison system. In the first place, the prison system succeeded to produce and reproduce «criminals» coming from the disadvantaged and underprivileged sections of the population (Reimen). Thus, it creates a suitable enemy, the «right» penal population. In the second place, and that is of great importance, the prison system succeeded to «enact the relations of inequality that characterise our society as normality and reproduce these relations in a material and ideological point of view» (Baratta, 1989, 11-12). In this respect, we can justify Foucault's (1991) analysis and easily understand prison system's survival.
On the other hand, penal abolitionism's critique towards prison system was always harsh (Christie, 1986b). The requisitions for law and order supply revengeful and punitive reflex and the suggested measures from the side of criminal justice system have invariably in common the character of repression. Punishment in general is «an intended evil», that reflects general cultural traditions. (Christie: 674). Thus, paraphrasing Hal Pepinsky «crime, generates solidarity by channelling a people's anger away from those at hand who provoke it most directly onto politically safe target» (Pepinsky, 1999). And, to use Nils Christie's terminology, the prisoner is suitable enemy; enemies against whom, we, the «law abiding people» are united. The enemy is easy to be identified (Box and Hale, 1986 - Haan, 1987). People of colour, young and poor, drug addicts from the «underclass», and when it comes to «family values», women; In Hal Pepinsky's words (1999: 1-3);

«Governmental response to crime has become more punitive, and focused more heavily not only on drug enforcement, but on enforcement against racial minorities, and on immigrant populations. Even where prisoners were released in large numbers in the late 1980's - as in the Soviet Union and Poland - prisons have rapidly refilled».

Therefore, black people clearly experiencing the racist nature of the prison system. For example, according to the data of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, black people represent 12% of the population in the United States of America and 13% of the total number of the drug addicts. However, black people represent 45% of the arrests, 55% of the convictions and 74% of prisoners for possession only of illicit drugs. Moreover, half of the penal population in the States are black people (Grivas, 1997). In this respect, institutional racism in the criminal justice system incarcerates Blacks in disproportionate numbers.
Indeed, in an abstract and legislative level, penal correction as a peculiar form of sanction seems that is oriented towards the ideas of upbringing and rehabilitation. But it is true that the materialisation of this peculiar form of sanction slightly differs from a plain serving of a classical «deprivation of freedom» punishment. A deprivation that has in its core painful, punitive and repressive nature (lex talionis);

«Those who are punished are supposed to suffer. If they by and large enjoyed it, we would change the method. It is intended within penal institutions that those at the receiving end shall get something that makes them unhappy, something that hurts» (Christie, 1981: 16).

In this respect, Michel Foucault's analysis of prison system appears to be true all along the line. Both «deprivation of liberty» and «rehabilitation idea» are core elements of the prison system and appeared simultaneously in the history of penal repression. It seems that nothing changed; rule and guide for the function of prison system continues to be the unceasing and despotic discipline.

«One thing is clear: the prison was not at first a deprivation of liberty to which a technical function of correction was later added; it was from the outset a form of ³legal detention² entrusted with an additional corrective task, or an enterprise for reforming individuals that the deprivation of Liberty allowed to function in the legal system. In short, penal imprisonment, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, covered both the deprivation of liberty and the technical transformation of individual» (Foucault, 1991: 233 and book's note no. 1).

More than a century after the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Human Rights, tortures and malpractice are more or less, common practice for the penitentiary system of many countries, in order to bend prisoners» morality. It is true that Amnesty International has already mentioned that not only authoritarian but also democratic countries of the West apply some kind of tortures and malpractice on prisoners. Life in prison is painful because the prison system is dedicated to bring about «pain delivery». Brutal disciplinary measures and brutal acts are often used to ensure silence, discipline and subjection of prisoners by guards and prison managers who thriving on having authority or suffer psychological problems.
On the other hand, it seems that nowadays crime pays; the profit «does not come from the work of the slave or prisoner, but from the work of handling them» (Christie, 1990/91: 55). The privatisation of prison offer the opportunity for greater profits and «prisoners are converted from workers to products, from humans to things» (Christie, ibid.).
Furthermore, the abolitionist critique of the rehabilitative ideal is reasonable all along the line; tout court, rehabilitation as a model of justice collapsed because it is based on false and dangerous principles. Prison system is not an efficient mean of bringing deviants back to normal societal life (Mathiesen, 1965) and never led to prisoner's «return to competence» (Mathiesen, 1990). As Angelika Scham (University of Oslo) recently asserted «empirical evidence showed that coercive treatment or rehabilitation did not work, or even that they were counterproductive. Locking up people, in other words, made these people worse, though it symbolically reassured the law abiding citizens who could feel ³safer² in their pretty neighbourhoods» (1996: 3). And in fact what criminal justice system has in mind when it speaks about «reinsertion», is a pathetic submission to the current state of affairs because the repressive penal sanction is a form of alienation (see however Ancel, 1995: 512-513). On the other hand, rehabilitative ideal, the so-called «medical model» has so far strengthened the destructive power of the criminal justice system (Bianchi, 1986b).

«Rehabilitation - with its treatment programmes, indeterminate sentences, and enforced therapy and counselling - was inherently manipulative and tended to substitute for law, judge, and jury, the expertise and the cultural standards, of psychiatrist and social worker. The prisoner, in other words, was made an object of diagnostic study and evaluation, whose release depended upon his ability to respond to the prescriptions of white-collar professionals for the Œcure' of his deviant behaviour» (Barker, 1986: 92).

The rehabilitative ideal, the so called medical model instead of decreasing the number of inmates, in fact functioned as a criminogenic machine; the increase in prison population is as plain as day. The effect of imprisonment is not rehabilitating and reforming the prisoners; recidivism rates have always been high (Poster, 1984 and Mathiesen, 1990). Thus, crime rates increasing and prison population is climbing to «red alert» levels. And in turn, prison simply re-supply the «circuit» with «new and better products» (Farsedakis, 1990:12). A Foucaultian vicious circle created by penal repression is taken place;

«So that one should speak of an ensemble whose three terms (police-prison-delinquency) support one another and form a circuit that is never interrupted. Police surveillance provides the prison with offenders, which the prison transforms into delinquents, targets and auxiliaries of prison supervisions, which regularly send back a certain number of them in prison» (Foucault, 1991: 282).

In an abolitionist point of view, the rehabilitative ideal remained constant, immutable and unsuccessful;

«To a large extent the rehabilitation ideas are the same today as they were at the time when the prison was invented and ... to the extent that rehabilitation has in fact been attempted, it has to an overwhelming degree not functioned according to plan. In rehabilitation, the ³return to competence² has not taken place».

In an abolitionist point of view, the ineffectiveness of the prison system and rehabilitative ideal are taken for granted (Mathiesen, 1990). An opinion that even mainstream criminologists like Marc Ancel, the founder of the so-called «New Social Defence» find it difficult to confront (Ancel, 1995: 511). Nils Christie pointed out the defeat of the treatment ideology, and asserted (Christie, 1981: 48) that;

«Prisons are filled with people in need of care and cure. Bad nerves, bad bodies, bad education - prisons are storing houses for deprived persons who stand in need of treatment and educational resources. Those fighting «treatment for crime» are of the opinion that humans should not be sentenced to imprisonment to give society the opportunity to treat them. But if human beings are in prison to receive punishments, they ought to get a maximum of treatment to improve their general conditions and soften their pain. Treatment for crime has lost its credibility. Treatment has not».

Prison system is dangerous as it does not rehabilitate but rather function as a «university of crime» which «serves to reinforce patterns of offending, and in the same cases, to produce more accomplished and more ingrained criminals» (Matthews, 1997: K2, referring to what the established liberal consensus maintains). On the other hand, prison system stigmatises; the «garbage can of society» (Mathiesen, 1990), the pariahs, the «underdogs», the dropouts are the products of criminal justice system and penal mechanism. More to the point, prison ruins lives;

«What criminological research nowadays has taught us is, however, that the idea of being able to improve the punished individual through a punishment implying deprivation of liberty, is an illusion. On the contrary, today is generally acknowledged that these kinds of punishment lead to poor rehabilitation and a high recidivism rate. In addition, they often have a destructive effect on personality» (Regeringens proposition, 1982/83 No. 85: 29, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Mathiesen, 1990: 47, in fine).

Furthermore, under the medical model, a prisoner had to face an indeterminate sentence and his fate is depending on uncertain scientific results of psychiatrist and psychologists. The prisoner does not be judged for his crime but by his «performance» in prison.

«In many countries though, the enthusiasm for prison as a therapeutic community had produced the indeterrninate sentence, making it possible for a delinquent who behaved badly in prison to face the possibility of a much longer stay in prison than the seriousness of his crime warranted. Prison behaviour became a more decisive factor in assessing the length of one' stay in prison than the seriousness of the crime» (Bianchi, 1986: 150).

And what is exactly contradictory is that it is under the «medical» model of justice where prisoners suffering from serious illness such as cancer and HIV are often given ineffective remedies to relieve the pains. It is common secret that women inmates are routinely denied access to physicians and especially as it impacts women prisons there is lack of adequate medical care. Unfortunately, criminal justice system under the pretext of rehabilitating, ill-treats prisoners with medical problems by the use of inhumane and punitive imprisonment and aggravates their situation. In essence, prisons are becoming more and more new sources of infection (Faugeron, 1998) and «the places which actually encourages people or provides the conditions for high risk behaviour» (Dr Gerry Stimson/Monitoring Research Group, «The Killer Inside» videotape, 1989).
And, lest we forget, it is inside the prison system where the most dangerous-mixed drugs are pouring into without the authorities being able or making any serious effort to stop the flood. The criminogenic function of criminal justice system is verified by the paragraph 112 of the report of the Committee of the European Parliament for Drug Problems; in most of the cases occasional drug-users start to use them frequently and become drug-addicts in the «paradise» of the criminal justice system (Grivas, 1990). However, the above situations are not only prison problems, i.e. problems behind the wall; «prison is not a different world and the way that AIDS and the other problems are handled inside could be crucial for those outside as well» (The Killer Inside, 1989).
Moreover, there is no lack of evidence in numbers for the destructive power of the punitive penal system; the Howard League for Penal Reform for example revealed that during 1998 there were 83 self inflicted deaths (source: HM Prison Service Suicide Awareness and Support Group, 1998 see Table 2) in prisons in England and Wales. And, unfortunately, these are the most deaths that have been recorded in any one-year. Clearly speaking, the whole penal system is a serial killer and drive prisoners to the ultimate act of self-destruction. Frances Crook, the Director of the Howard League asserted that (Howard League For Penal Reform, 1999):

«During the last year more people than ever before have been affected by the death of a loved one in prison. The very fact that 83 people have felt so distressed and isolated that they have taken their own life is an indictment on the whole penal system. The sheer numbers speak for themselves».

Finally abolitionist Thomas Mathiesen was exactly right in his conclusion that prison does not rehabilitate but in fact dehabilitates (Mathiesen, 1990); and the same goes to Claude Faugeron for her conclusion that prison does not habilitate but neutralise prisoners (1998). For all the contrary declarations and expectations, imprisonment imposed by criminal justice system has deeply implanted in itself the sentiment of revenge. In essence, revenge and retribution are core and notional elements of the repressive penal mechanism. Therefore, it is not the feel of security that justify the existence of prison and makes us feel good; tout court, it is the desire for revenge that had been cultivated by the criminal justice system. In Foucaultian terms, prison system succeeded to enslave not only the body of prisoner; the slavery of mind is the ultimate target.
Moreover, during the past decade penal abolitionism harshly criticised the so-called «justice model», because of a renewed interest that occurred by critical criminologists to justify punishment and curtail state authority's expansionist punitive approach towards «crime». Justice model has emerged as an «alternative» to the rehabilitative ideal as a model of punishment and justice, inspired by the Kantian model on the issue of justice (Cavender, 1984).
Formulated in bold terms, we should say that «justice model» aim at the reintegration by punishing the «criminal» with a just return. In this respect, «just deserts» means equal punishment for equally serious crime. The main representative of this model of justice is Andrew Von Hirch (Christie, 1981 and Haan, 1987).
However, as a critique of penality in every form, penal abolitionism demonstrated the contradictions and dangers of «just deserts» while other critical criminologists quickly reject it as plainly «bourgeois» (Paternoster, R. and Bynum, T., 1982).

«Key concept like deterrence and retribution are taken out of context and thereby stripped of their myriad implications. As a result, they are used as catchwords, as if they were in and of themselves justifications for punishment. Fundamental issues have been avoided or simply neglected as, for instance, how the claim may be made in the first place that certain things are wrong and ought to be punished... In other words, the idea of ³just deserts² only if the laws are fair and the society guarantees entity, if not equality» (Haan, 1987: 327-328).

Thus, by criticising the «justice model», penal abolitionism showed that there is a clear ideological - in terms of legitimacy - crisis in prison system. However, in contrary to what Bottoms and Preston argued (1980), the ideological crisis caused not because of the failure of the «rehabilitative ideal» but because of penal reasoning and rationale; a prison is inherently repressive means of social control.
In this respect, penal abolitionism does not consider prison system as only a nexus of limitations and restrictions but, mainly, as this very clear and real end of the intolerable logic of socialisation, neutralisation and normalisation. It is in abolitionists duty to fight in every scientific and activist field against this special framework of society that inevitably leads to repression and annihilation (Baker, 1992). As an immediate step towards this goal is the creation in every country of an independent and separated body for prisoners complaints. This opinion find all the existed British organisations and committees for prisoners» rights in total agreement (NACRO, Prison Reform Trust, Howard League etc., see «Strangeways» video).
However, conventional criminology continues to sacrifice the individual to the State and his personal liberty to the severity of repression. Likewise, mainstream criminologists reckon as their duty to patch the holes of the social tissue in order not to secure the prosperity of society but rather to secure the survival of a system of repression and punishment. And on the other hand, Marxist criminology continues to sustain the myth of criminal justice system;

«Marxist criminology falls within the conventional bounds of assuming that true criminals differ from most other members of a social system, and that crime and criminality can best be controlled by giving the true offenders special treatment» (Pepinsky, 1980: 299).

Penal abolitionism wants the infliction of punishment in terms of only deprivation of liberty to be taken place at least ultimately. Therefore, penal abolitionism calls for a «de-emphasis on use-functions» in order to reduce pain delivery from the prison system. And, it is the «reduction of utility-thinking around punishment that opens the way for alternative paradigms» because «free of utility thinking we would be confronted with a need for an evaluation of the penal approach as a cultural phenomenon» (Christie, 1990/91: 55-56).
As an avant-garde criminological paradigm, «unjust pain» is not something to which it aspires. Abolitionist Nils Christie brought in focus the need for protection from unjust pain delivery in his inspiring book «Limits to Pain» and advocated that

«My own view is that the time is now ripe to bring these oscillatory moves (penal theories and practices) to an end by describing their futility and by taking a moral stand in favour of creating severe restrictions on the use of man-made pain as a means of social control. On the basis of experience from social systems with a minimal use of pain, some general conditions for a low level of pain infliction are extracted. If pain is to be applied, it has to be pain without a manipulative purpose and in social form resembling that which is used when the people are in deep sorrow. This might lead to a situation where punishment for crime evaporated. Where that happened, basic features of the State would also have evaporated. Formulated as an ideal, this situation might be just as valuable to make explicit and to keep in mind as situations where kindness and humanity reign-ideals never to be reached, but something to stretch towards» (Christie, 1981: 5-6).

Clearly speaking, the necessity for the abolition of criminal justice system's institutions was dictated by the ascertainment that these institutions are unsuccessful to confront the problems of the social tissue and engendered and reproduced institutional violence. In this respect penal abolitionism holds as «lighthouse» for its policy the need for de-encirclement of criminological research from the domination of penal law and the formation of conditions and stipulations for the exceeding of capitalist socio-political system and post-capitalist society.
The abolition of prison, however, is inside the logic of history (Baker, 1992); nowadays and worldwide, a sweeping critique against the inhuman institution is taken place by scientists in every scientific field. And penal abolitionism calls for the abolition of prisons by offering a new solution (neue losung) that seems to be taken seriously. The poster of the of the Council of Europe showing a flight of birds throwing a cage in the sea under a multi-language title is a plain example of inspiration from the ideas and politics of penal abolitionism (Alexiadis, 1989).
Clearly, great problems demand great solutions. Abolitionism undermines the prisoncrat's authority, creates links in and out of prisons fights the death penalty and torture methods, and offers juridical support. Invariably abolitionism fights against the propaganda of the prevailing socio-political establishment that adopts «tough on crime» rhetoric and «zero tolerance» politics and spreads the «fear of crime» disease in the social tissue. Consequently, penal abolitionism calls for radical limitation of penal system, depenalization and decriminalisation of criminilized acts, moratorium in prison construction and gradual abolition of prison system through radical spoilage of criminal law and criminal justice system. Because prison is more than a plain institution; it is a pattern of social organisation, a symbolic system that creates for individual a certain way of thinking that emphasises on violence and downgrading of human relationships.
In the questions «what is to be done with the penal system», penal abolitionists refer us to the answer given by the anarchist (and abolitionist - Swaaningen, 1995: 132) Russian philosopher, Peter Kropotkin (1927);

«The prison kills all the qualities in a man which make him best adapted to community life. It makes him the kind of person who will inevitably return to prison to end his days in one of those stone tombs over, which is, engraved «House of Detention and Correction». There is only one answer to the question «what can be done to better this penal system?». Nothing! A prison cannot be improved. With the exception of a few unimportant little improvements, there is absolutely nothing to do but demolish it».

It is true. The course «crime-prison-crime» hardly has a return. For the prison «scars prisoners for a life time and dispatch the weakest or spiritually shatter the others» (Panousis, 1998: 136).
Let's think now of a fellow human being entering the prison and facing our criminal justice system; what she/he supposed to be expected? The answer is quite simple...
Psychological pressure, verbal abuse, deprivation of food and medicine, isolation, confinement is a control unit, violence and tortures, gang activity, guard brutality, inadequate ventilation and lightning, days in the «hole», limitation of communication and space, overcrowding, social relations based on authority, scandalous imprisonment conditions, stigmatisation, deprivation of heterosexual relations, deprivation of autonomy, deprivation of security in relation to other inmates, disciplinary punishments, closed-circuit television screens, brutal acts, isolation cells, dangerous conditions for drug-use, terror and suppression, physical and sexual abuse of women prisoners, changes in prisoners» personality, ideologies of the past that become the rule and been enforce mutatis mutandis nowadays like «poena est estimation delicti» (Papinius) and «malum passionis propter malum actionis» (Grotius), brainwashing, chemotherapy and other enforced therapies, pathetic and corruptive imprisonment, the wear and tear of prison, a life of boredom and useless toil...

«Think of a man shut up under these circumstances ... for a year, eighteen months or two years, and left to frood upon the past, with no companionship, save his own sad thoughts - his mind utterly stagnant, with nothing to relieve the silent solitude and the monotonous torture of his confinement. Is it any wonder, then, that after a long period of imprisonment, a prisoner often comes out so enfeebled in body and mind that he is absolutely unfit for any employment and thus falls an easy prey to temptation? Our jails, like our laws and our social system, manufacture criminals. That is all they are fit for» (Nicoll, 1992: 6).

Penal Abolitionists are right; «not only can we say most certainly that prison does not rehabilitate but most likely we can also say that in fact it dehabilitates» (Mathiesen, 1990), because «the penal system is there to hurt people, not to help or cure» (Christie, 1981). It is time to listen more closely to prisoners and their grievances. It is time to acknowledge their rights. As immediate steps towards a policy of abolition I will add the following measures which are compatible with the principles of penal abolitionism:
a. Legitimatization of all prisoners» rights that derive from the European Convention for Human Rights.
b. Abolition of disciplinary measures and any method of malpractice and ill-treatment of prisoners especially in cases of active or passive resistance of their side.
c. Easy access to prisons by the mass media.
d. Legitimatization of prisoners» right to create organisations, to read newspapers and to communicate with their family and close environment with no restriction.
e. Legitimatization of prisoners» right for free and not imposed vocational training.


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