Karagiannidis From Bentham's Panopticon to Electronic Monitoring

«Taken as a whole, things are much worse than Michel Foucault imagined. The total situation clearly calls for political resistance.»

Thomas Mathiesen, «The Viewer Society», 1997

Despite the fact that the new technology holds a great liberating force and influence - both corporal and spiritual - in itself (Bookchin, 1979), it seems that somehow exists a fetishism for the word «new technology» in itself; a fetishism that invariably seems to forgive even the most repressive and horrific plans and programs for a «war on crime». And, on the other hand, more and more achievements in the fields of Biochemistry, Medicine, Psychology and others determine the penitentiary and the whole penal system.
«Home confinement», «intensive probation programs» and «electronic monitoring»... The future of penal repression approaches more and more the orwellian-foucaultian nightmare and looks dismal (Lilly, 1990).

«This then is how we must imagine the punitive city. At the cross-roads, in the gardens, at the sides of the roads, in workshops open to all, in the depths of mines ... will be hundreds of tiny theatres of punishment» (Foucault, 1991).

The planting of electronic devices into the bodies of «criminals» and the enabling of twenty-four hour observation by the «big-brother» is horrific and inhumane. Therefore, it received a harsh critique by the abolitionists (Bianchi, 1986) for it is an insidious extension of state apparatus of social control.
However, electronic monitoring (also known as «tagging») is not so new; as an idea within the bounds of the penitentiary harm; back in 1964, there were related experiments, conducted under the guidance of Ralph Schwitzgebel in Harvard University. Later on, the judge Jack Love, in New Mexico (biblio) continued the same experiments.
These experiments were called «electronic rehabilitative systems» and the main reason for the propulsion of them was the great pressure of economically mighty companies. Simply, there was a great wish to promote and sell their technological equipment and the naive and fatuous public confidence in the technological devises functioned - and still functions - as an unforeseen supporter in their efforts.
Furthermore, despite the arguments of those in fave of the use of electronic monitoring, that it is an «in freedom» (sic) form of punishment, it is plain as day that electronic monitoring is a form of punishment. In an abolitionist point of view, it is not risky to say that electronic monitoring is even more dangerous than plain imprisonment. As an alternative to freedom, electronic monitoring, which is widely promoted by criminal justice systems, clearly face the scepticism of abolitionism and critical criminology. In essence, electronic monitoring as many other pseudo-alternatives to prison could be seen as another form of criminogenic stigmatisation (Christie, 1981).
Imprisonment, let alone prisoner's rehabilitation, should be ruled at least by the basic well known penal principles of analogy, necessity and equalising function.
However, electronic monitoring is operated on cases such «drink and drive» offences or petty thefts where an ordinary probation would be ample. Moreover, it is obvious that constant and indistinguishable monitoring, expands the official social control and outrages not only prisoner's but also third party's sense of justice and freedom (e.g. family, friends etc.). In John Walters (Chief Probation Officer in Middlesex) words («No Soft Option» - videotape);

«The introduction of electronic tagging as a means of monitoring behaviour is a sinister development in the relationship of the State and the citizen. And I would not like to see it operating in the work of the probation service».

On the other hand, as left realism has already showed, the use of electronic monitoring has in fact a very little impact on the prison population. Electronic monitoring, in contrary, brought about family breakdowns, reduction in the family income (because the offender pays a fee for the equipment) and stigmatisation. However, what seem to be extended by the use of electronic devices are the profits of the producer companies (Matthews, R. and Berry, B., 1989).
Penal abolitionists are obligated to stand adamantly against electronic monitoring by pointing out ideological, ethical and moral reasons. The resistance against this humiliating means of control is a high priority. Market is not exactly the right thing to stimulate innovations in penal policies. Michel Foucault (1991) has already warned us «disciplinary power tends to multiply, differentiate and expand».


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