Karagiannidis Abolitionism Against Prison Construction

«Try this out:
For a real taste of prison life,
try living 23 hours a day in your bathroom.
Remove everything but the toilet,
use the bathtub as a bed,
lock the door,
and make yourself comfortable.»

A prisoner in New York Prison Zone Web-Journal

The rates of incarceration are increasing geometrically, because of a continuous increase in punitiveness by the criminal justice systems. As an inevitable result, the prison system is expanding and what is currently seen is a high demand for new prisons. Not surprisingly, abolitionism is strongly opposed to the use of prison as a way of punishment and pleads for a ban on further development of the system, i.e. a ban on the building of new prisons.
The abolitionist Thomas Mathiesen (Professor of Sociology of Law, University of Oslo - Norway) clearly stated that criminal policy and the use of prison are in fact dependent on the political inclination and choice of the authorities. Thus, the issue of prison building has a pure political nature;

«Building is often seen as a technical question of architecture, construction, and short-term trends in inmate population. But the question is essentially political. Politics is a question of deciding priorities of values. Therefore, the issue of prison building is a question of deciding priorities of values. Is this the way we want to treat fellow human beings? Is this how we want to meet the crime problem? These are some of the questions of value involved» (Mathiesen, 1986: 89).

In an abolitionist point of view, the arguments towards a policy of limiting and shrinking the prison system appear to be forcible. An expansion of the prison systems is not only unnecessary but also it is not reasonable. And although prison for centuries has the central core of the State's policy of social control, the situation is divertible. Apart from the well known arguments of the ineffectiveness of prison in terms of individual and general prevention, the destructive effects of imprisonment in prisoner's personality, its degrading and humiliating character, and the obvious argument of economy, the abolitionist arguments against the building of more prisons are even more solid and forcible.
In the first place stands the argument of the irreversible character of prison building. Once a prison built would never be «undone» and simply criminal justice systems has to use it. In Thomas Mathiesen's words;

«The irreversible character of prison building, the fact that prison building in this sense should be seen as a part of a long-ranging historical process rather than as a short-term pragmatic measure, is in itself a major reason for not embarking on any construction programme today» (Mathiesen, 1986: 87).

On the other hand, a new prison is not coming to replace the old prison but rather to be added on the current situation. Thus, a new prison is not a substitute but an addition and that shows clearly the expansionist character of the prison system.
In the second place, and this is the major forceful abolitionist argument against new prison construction, is the argument of cultural values. Simply, in the eyes of the general public, «prison building necessarily signifies a positive value in building and solidifies the prison solution in our society» (Mathiesen, 1986: 88).
But what about the queues, the overcrowded prisons and the waiting (sic) lists? Abolitionism argues that a ban on the building of new prisons is feasible and offers reasonable solutions;
a. lowering the limit for release on parole
b. changing sentencing rules, (reducing the number of custodial sentences and shortening the length of custodial sentences) and most of all
c. extensive use of pardoning and repentance as a means of clearing blame.
Finally, one of my deepest concerns about prison construction is coming from the fact that more and more state authority use to entrust universities and research centres with the task of designing new prisons. And not surprisingly, it is behind the well-known and broadly accepted myth of scientific objectivity where a social consensus and apathy are been established, while simultaneously the repressive penal mechanisms are been upgraded.


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