Karagiannidis Abolitionism and the Driving Forces Behind Penal Repression

Nowadays, the police, the mass media and the political establishment are major social interest groups for every society. Penal abolitionists were always sceptical about their actual role in drawing-out moral panic and altering the socio-political climate in the area of criminal and penal policy. Therefore, penal abolitionism confronted them as a real threat and as the actual driving forces behind the growing penal repression. It is common to see the police, the mass media and the political establishment united and participated in major public outcry against «high rates of criminality» (Mathiesen, 1996). In this respect, the triangular mechanism appears to be extremely powerful; it is the «power to define what we think about and how we think about it. It is the power that shapes our collective consciousness and attitudes, and in so doing, motivates people to respond to specific stimuli, and respond in a specific way» (Muntaquin, 1995). But alas, it is well known that whenever authority fails to paralyse and dislocate by coercion and force, it dislocated by subjection; by giving crutches to society, and we are all going about on crutches owned and controlled by this same apparatus.
In the first place, police is one of the most powerful institutions within the criminal justice system and hardly holds any liberal and non-punitive policies. It is in its duty not treating human beings but cases, and that is of great importance. As an institution, police is always ready to jump onto the «get-tough-on-crime» bandwagon and many times police officers are charged for malpractice such as bending the rules, planting evidence, stop and search with no reason at all and physical abuse. Thus instead of functioning as a service as critical criminology wants, it function as a force. However penal abolitionism and critical criminology in general will invariably call for a change of ethos for police by demonstrating its malpractice and the inevitable decline in the public perception of police efficiency. On the other hand the force-police, use to target offenders not only in an ineffective way but also provocative one (e.g. eagle eye prominent» policies»). In the «Frontline Britain» programme of the «Network First» series we heard that police many times act as an «agent-provocateur»;

«Young black men are given particularly close attention from the police from the police. In London, there are five times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. In high crime areas young blacks are likely to be seen by the police and by many of the white majority as an identifiable enemy».

In the second place, mass media are been nourished by stories of high criminality and search intensively for sensational individual cases; «it is part of the very development of the modern mass media and of the modern concept of the ³newsworthy² to do just that», as Thomas Mathiesen elegantly put it (1996: 3). The media pick, choose and show us according to what they perceive to be of interest and «safe» to their public. Thus, «mass media apply and cash in heavy profit on the concept of crime» (Christie, 1990/91: 54). In this respect, rather than justify the media stereotypes I argue that it is precisely the media distortion that causes the bulk of problems. Tout court, mass media bring about a «pattern of one dimensional thought and behaviour» (Marcuse, 1991). And as the Canadian abolitionist prisoner Yves Bourque (1994: 4) concluded in his paper under the title «Prison Abolition», the six o' clock news will report a regrettable incident like so:

«Today, a young bank teller was shot in cold blood in the course of a robbery. When apprehended by the police, it was found that twenty-six old so and so had just recently been released on parole after having served only four of a seven year sentence for robbery. More news later..».

It does not say:

«Yesterday again, a young bank teller was shot in the course of a robbery at the corner of such and such street. A humanitarian organisation that is now helping the parents of the victim cope with their immense grief and anger has told this media that the apprehended twenty-six year old had, since age seventeen, undergone six years of ³legal² physical and psychological torture, degradation and systematic dehumanisation at the hands of the penal authorities. Socially and emotionally assassinated so and so had once told the institutional psychiatrist that the scars of cigarette burns on his penis, inflicted by police in a forced questioning pertaining to the denunciation of a major heroin dealer, had caused him to try to commit suicide at least three times while in prison and once at his mother's house. More news later, now, this report on the devastating effects of the cruise missile».

It is true; crime pays through a process of its «Hollywoodization» (Greenfield, S. and Osborn, G., 1999). Nowadays, people-viewers eat «crimes» in their television set like candies and murders make best sellers. Mass media, police and political establishment feed the circuit; criminal justice system invariably need scapegoats, it needs «criminals», in order to achieve their own existence. Marx made a clever observation when he wrote that:

«The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto a general market as commodities ... and the criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and criminal justice, constables, judges, juries, etc.» (Marx, 1969: 387-388).

In the third place, political establishment managed with the help of mass media to form an omnipresent «public opinion», to create to a large extent a public concern about crime and win «a silent (sic) majority to the support of increasingly coercive measures and unusual exercising of control on the part of the state, particularly over young, black, unemployed males» (Haan, 1987: 324). By shaping with the help of mass media the collective consciousness and attitudes, the political establishment has the opportunity and ability to pass into law draconian sanctions. There is no doubt that many times fear of crime is spread maintained and been used by the political establishment in order to bring about and legitimise penal measures that encroach human rights (Farsedakis, 1989).
And once again, state authority and its criminal justice system choose the most suitable enemies to carry out their actions. In Nils Christie's words (1990-91: 54)

«Crimes ideal for state actions are those carried out by powerless groups in the periphery (young, poor, mentally confused), people with appearance that blocks identifications (hippies, gypsies, foreign workers, immigrants) and people performing acts generally disapproved of, and with only limited similarity to deviant acts carried out elsewhere».

I will try to show of the interactionist way that political establishment, police and mass media function by mentioning a recent example that occurred in Greece; the building of the stereotype of the dangerous Albanian immigrant (Karydis, 1992,1996,1996b, 1998 and Psimmenos, 1995). An example that will show clearly the «incestuous relationship» of the triangle mentioned above.
Greece, although a traditional country of emigration, became a country of immigration since the beginning of 90's and, latest statistics showed that today immigrants constitute 5% of the total population and 10% of the economically active population (Karydis, 1996). The vast majority of immigrants are Albanians (52,51%); young and impoverished people coming from an «intra Europe country of third world» and holding the faith of a better life. This part of the population became however the scapegoat of Greek society, a suitable «folk devil».
Mass Media has a crucial and decisive contribution to the creation of the negative conception towards immigration and to the construction of negative stereotypes. A content analysis of the Greek press and television programs during the first years of the massive influx of economic refugees reveals that unemployment and criminality were the main issues connected to migration. Clearly speaking, mass media contributed to the creation of a moral panic and propaganda of the political establishment and adopt «tough on crime» rhetoric while spreading the «fear of crime» disease. They often characterised immigration as a social scourge and urge to adopt an even harsher immigratory policy and legislation. In essence, Pierre Bourdieu's «Portraying of Despair» led to the creation of bias and the discouragement of impartiality.
On the other hand, political establishment greatly contributes to the reconstruction of crime as a social reality, motivated by political and vote-haunting reasons. So, they fast urged for a harsher and more punitive migration policy.
And, finally the police reproduced with great pleasure this same reconstruction of crime. The increase in crime rates that occurred in Greece was easily attributed nearly exclusively to the undocumented immigrants and not to its lack of accountability.
However, the results of the stereotyping are disastrous. Undocumented immigrants live constantly under the fear of state repression and deportation. They are obligated to deal with men of the underworld in order to enter the country and ones in Greece they are exploited as a cheap labour force. More to the point, we observe the existence of an institutional violence that tolerates and provokes incidents of racial hatred and xenophobia.
The criminal stereotype function nowadays as an alibi for the use of violence against Albanian immigrants and therefore, in a left realist «action-reaction» perspective, immigrants adopt a defensive negative stance (Lea, 1992).
However, many research studies demystified the myths of unemployment and increasing crime rates caused by immigrants. For example, immigrants occupy roles and positions in the labour market which local labour force do not wish to occupy either because they are heavy and not well paid or dangerous. On the other hand, despite the fact that according to the stereotype immigrants are responsible for the high crime rates, research showed that the crime committed by migrants in Greece are usually low-profile ones; criminal offences provoked by their illegal status (e.g. illegal entry) or property crimes motivated by poverty or even for survival reasons (Karydis, 1998).
The situation that is created through the interaction between these driving forces is developing for the worse. However, abolitionism considers this situation as a good reason to call for a much stronger political resistance. Penal abolitionists point out the need for building «alternative public space»; a space that will provide no access for a destructive invasion from mass media, police and politicians. In Thomas Mathiesen's words, «the point is to contribute to the creation of an alternative public space in penal policy, where argumentation and principled thinking represent the dominant values» (Mathiesen, 1996: 5). Therefore, what is needed is

«Firstly, liberation from what I would call the absorbent power of the mass media. Secondly, a restoration of the self esteem and feeling of worth on the part of grass roots movements. And, thirdly a restoration of the feeling of responsibility on the part of intellectuals ... partly directed towards a refusal to participate in the mass media show business and partly directed towards re-vitalisation of research taking the interests of common people as a point of departure» (Mathiesen, 1996: 5).

In this respect, it is time to take criminal justice system and its driving forces seriously. It is time to throw away our crutches and walk our road in solidarity. Abolitionists, are right; the spirit of resistance and activism is not dead (Mathiesen, 1996). The existing mobility in the neo-feminist and ecological movement are clear examples.
Finally, the «fear of crime» that is born on the irrationality of the mass media functions as a form of social exclusion, and is a major social problem. This fear has unfortunate side-effects (Simpson, 1991 and Yexley, 1992) as it can exclude the parts of the population that fear most from getting involve in social, political or work activities. And the abolitionist answer to aggravation and exploitation of this fear by the mass media can not be other than the struggle towards the upgrading of the role of woman and the activation of elderly people in the social web. There lies the debt for abolitionism and neo-feminism; the role of the «harmless» and «dependent» victim that is been offered by criminal law and justice to women should be refused and radically criticised along with any repressive way of thinking (Swaaningen, 1989: 297).


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