indice


Karagiannidis Abolitionism and the Pitfalls of Today

«There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of Law and in the name of Justice.»

Montesquieu, 1742



Although it is well known that abolitionism as a movement met great victories throughout history, the movement did not succeed to avoid pitfalls set by the system of repression and - mainly - did not show the necessary flexibility to avoid the «power of absorption» of this same powerful system. The abolitionist Herman Bianchi, offered three clear examples for this situation in his opening address on 25th June 1985 for the Second International Conference on Prison (now Penal) Abolition in Amsterdam (Bianchi, 1986).
a. The successful abolitionist struggle for the abolition of the privileges of the clergy and of the aristocracy in the end of the 18th century was followed by a new more humiliating status quo of bureaucracy and in fact, a new aristocracy of economic enterprise.
b. The successful abolitionist struggle for the abolition of slavery was followed by an unlimited economic exploitation of a large part of the population, and
c. The victorious abolitionist struggle for the abolition of state organised and a commercially organised criminal network of female abuse, in essence, followed controlled prostitution in the end of the 19th century.
However, it is exactly the mistakes of the past that would be the guiding light for the abolitionist struggle and resistance in the future. Here lies the great debt for any abolitionist; to offer justificatory argumentation, to uncover the fallacies of criminal justice system and to re-skill the de-skilled community. Nils Christie was exactly right in his conclusion that the role of the criminologists is not to be perceived as useful problem-solvers, but as problem raisers (as cited in Bottomley, 1979). In Herman Bianchi's words;

«Perhaps, we are not far from the truth in assuming that the cause for this kind of trap in the struggle for the abolition of any kind of social injustice, lies exactly in the fallacies of justificatory argumentation ... As long as a greater part of the population acquiesced to these kind of arguments, they offered ample opportunity to rulers and the privileged to manipulate the whole nation. What happened was that new institutions took over the supposed duties of the previous ones and social injustice could quite often just continue. And, for some time, people were beguiled until they became aware of the social deceit, by which time it was too late» (Bianchi, 1986: 148).

So, in the first place stands the well-known argument of the necessity of imprisonment as a means of protection of the community from crime. This argument is itself one of the greatest pitfalls for abolitionists. Therefore it must be confronted with great attention. Abolitionists can and in fact are obligated to uncover the fallacy and to continue advocating for a radical non-intervention. For example, the argument that abolitionist principles are almost impossible to applied in modern capitalist societies, as it comes in terms of prison abolition, is one of the most expressed by the opponents of penal abolitionism. However, this opinion is a fallacy and can easily be confronted only by mentioning that a highly industrialised, complex, multicultural, and overpopulated urban society like the Netherlands is nearly achieving a de facto abolition of prisons (Haan, 1986 see also Table 1). And all that happened through a policy of high tolerance and radical non-intervention; in essence through a policy based on abolitionist principles and rationale. It is the critical criminology in the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, the stronghold of Penal Abolitionism, who succeeded to uncover the fallacy and show the way;

«We all know this protection to be a fallacy, because it protects us only for the time being. The ex-convict might, under certain circumstances, be less well adapted to good social life than before. There is a better reason, however, for taking the argument seriously. If the abolitionist does not do it, the authorities and the administrators of justice will most certainly do so, and use it to manipulate the public opinion and fear, most graciously helped by the media» (Bianchi, 1986: 153).

On the other hand, abolitionists should avoid the pitfall of the so-called need for humanisation of the prison system or for humane criminal justice administration. That is not a priority for abolitionists; it is at least controversial to fight for the abolition of a system worth rejecting and in the same time to try to reform it. Herman Bianchi's comparison was successful; «anti-militarists do not discuss a human war» (Bianchi, 1986: 154). Tout court, abolitionism means a de facto abolition of prison, of penal law and of criminal justice system. The reforms are likely to strengthen the institutions of «pain delivery» (Hudson, 1998). And this is of great importance; the abolitionists should avoid the pitfall of a new bureaucracy by abolishing the bureaucracy of the criminal law system. There lies the great dept for critical criminology; the struggle must not be operated towards the creation of a skilled and effective criminal justice system's agencies but what is needed is to reskill the community.
In the second place, lies the pitfall of the so-called «alternative» penal sanctions in the form of community service. Although at the very first sight the sanction of community service appears to be humane, edifying and «political correct», a close look shows that this penal sanction hides great dangers. The «alternative» penal sanction of community service is in clear contrast with the abolitionist principles and the hermeneutical circle of the abolitionist thought. It is not only for abolitionists stood adamantly against imposed community work so early as in the end of the 18th century (Bianchi, 1986) and proposed prisons instead.
Community service as an alternative penal sanction continues to be penal labour as far as it is imposed. The scepticism of abolitionism towards the penal labour - even in the form of community service - and the sequential rejection of it must come across to terms of glorification of labour itself. The abolitionist rejection of labour does not mean rejection of the creative and productive ability of the individual; it means rejection of the imposed labour. It is rejection of the capitalist order for production and consumption. It is the rejection of the capitalist system whom relations of productions prevent and distort these abilities (Banlieues, 1998). In essence, rejection of the penal labour (inside or outside prison) means rejection of the order as a form of expropriation of time, relations and life itself.
Labour is still a structural element of prison system. Nowadays, the prisoner - most of times convicted for minor offences - is encouraged or is forced to offer his work outside prison in the form of community work. However, the semantic coincidence of prison/community service with labour does not aim at the production of work because it is plain as day that this production is quantitatively and many times qualitatively negligible.
Abolitionists must avoid the pitfall; the goal for community service is the prisoner's acceptance of the «employer-labourer», i.e. «master-servant» relationship. As Michel Foucault elegantly put it (1991: 242-243);

«Penal labour must be seen as the very machinery that transforms the violent, agitated, unreflective convict into a part that plays its role with perfect regularity and îif in the final analysis, the work of the prison has an economic effect, it is by producing individuals mechanised according to the general norms of an industrial society' the making of machine men, but also of proletarians ... What then is the use of penal labour? Not profit; nor even the formation of a useful skill; but the constitution of a power relation, an empty economic form, a schema of individual submission and of adjustment to production apparatus».

Moreover it was observed that these kind of imposed community work sanctions resulted in a «net widening». In Herman Bianchi's words, «they have widened the impact of penal policy on society, for most community work sentences have been in those cases where prosecution would have been suspended in recent decades» (Bianchi, 1986: 152).
Formulated in bold terms, we should say that abolitionism has to continue the harsh critique of all these «alternative» penal sanctions and to strongly demand sharp reduction of the incarceration rates (i.e. sentencing less people to shorter terms), moratorium in prison construction and promotion of legal and social alternatives to the punitive system. And the latter means promotion of dispute settlement, promotion of regulation and management of the conflict (Bianchi, 1986). Moreover abolitionism as a real critical criminology, should continue nurturing a mistrust towards penological experts, and refusing to provide them with «new fodder for their penal obsession» (Haan, 1990: 5).
Furthermore, penal abolitionism should continue to harshly criticise the tend of criminal justice system in punishing minor offences with short-term imprisonment. In addition to the lack of any usefulness of the short-term imprisonment, it brings disastrous results to the life and future of the prisoners. The so-called sharp-short shocks of the British penologists breaks away prisoners from their family, professional and social environment. Sharp-short shocks are a recall from free life, a rift in prisoner's life and environment (family, work etc.), most of the times non divertible (Ancel, 1995). Finally, equally destructive is the institution of detention under remand. A detention awaiting trial is not only a temporary deprivation of liberty but also and mainly a prisonization and stigmatisation of prisoner whom guiltiness have not been proved.
Another serious pitfall for penal abolitionism is the underestimation of the seriousness that is hiding behind the so-called «state organised crime». Although it is of great criminological interest, abolitionists did not take it seriously until now and escape from their criminological inquiry. However, the criminological paradigm in discussion has to confront this form of problematic situation in terms of state repression.
In essence, crime is not only an indirect - through criminalization procedure - product of the state. It is also a direct one as we face it in the form of the state-organised crime. In his remarkable paper under the title «State Organised Crime», William Chambliss offered a clear definition for it (1989: 184);

«Acts defined by law as criminal and committed by state officials in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the state. Examples include a state's complicity in piracy, smuggling, assassinations, criminal conspiracies, acting as an accessory before or after the fact, and violating laws that limit their activities. In the latter category would be include the use of illegal methods for spying on citizens, diverting funds in ways prohibited by law».

For the localisation and analysis of this type of criminality, Chambliss went back to history and discovered outstanding examples of state organised crime, in the forms of state supported piracy that helped «to equalise the balance and reduce the tendency towards the monopolisation of capital accumulation» (Chambliss, 1989: 188), and state supported smuggling (France in Indochina, United States of America in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand). In William Chambliss' words (1989: 192);

«In violation of US laws, members of the National Security Council (NSC) the Department of Defence, and the CIA carried out a plan to sell millions of dollars worth arms to Iran and use the profits from these sales to support the Contras in Nicaragua».

Furthermore, state organised crime includes tortures and assassinations with the help of secret intelligence organisations, like for example the Iranian SAVAK or the Chilean DINA. There are also illegal practices such as the opening and photographing of the mail of citizens, illegally entering and searching in people's homes, domestic surveillance through electronic devices, dangerous and secret experiments on human subjects which violates civil rights and endanger their lives, disruption and harassment of anti-regime groups.
And one of the recent examples is the COINTELPRO program. During the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI created a program called COINTELPRO or Counter Intelligence Program. This program was designed to destroy any organisation considered by the US Government, FBI, or CIA to be politically or socially dissident. FBI's secret program undermined the popular upsurge during 1960's and eliminates the radical political opposition inside the United States by sabotaging constitutionally protected political activity.
By using the techniques of infiltration, bad-jacketing, forgery and provoking violence with and between groups and law enforcement, the FBI hoped to nullify their progress. Those targeted included groups focused on antiwar demonstrations, Black civil rights (particularly the Black Panther Party, Native civil rights and equal rights for women). According to Brian Glick, author of «War at Home», FBI disclosed official counterintelligence programs such as; the Communist Party of USA (1956-1971), «Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto-Rico» (1960-1971), the «Socialist Workers Party» (1961-1971), the «New Left» (1968-1971) and others (Glick, 1999). In essence COINTELPRO managed to

«distorted the public's view of radical groups in a way that helped to isolate them and to legitimise open political repression, reinforced and exacerbated the weakness of these groups, making it difficult for the inexperienced activists of the Sixties to learn from their mistakes and build solid, durable organisations, helped to push some of the most committed and experienced groups to withdraw from grassroots organising and to substitute armed actions which isolated them and deprived the movement of much of its leadership and by operating covertly weakened domestic political opposition without shaking the conviction of most US people that they live in a democracy with free speech and the rule of law» (Glick, 1999: 2-3).

However, these actions reached at the zenith point in the late 60's turmoil (Gitlin, 1998). On the other hand, a few things are known about the connection of these secret agencies and the mass media. Recently Todd Gitlin observed that this field is «terra incognita» although there are some evidence for a possible co-operation FBI-CBS-New York Times, in areas like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Milwaukee for the period 1956-1971 (Gitlin, 1998).
Finally among the victims of state organised crime are the million of people who suffer terrible pains because of an official validated exposure of their body to pollution, poisons and chemicals. These are the victims, or to use Vincenzo Ruggiero's term «the invisible victims» (1992) whom faith in the technological dream has broke down after the latest proofs (and headlines) of the existence of industrial vulnerability and sensitivity (Bhopal, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Love Channel, RCB, Valdez) and the well-known - now - hole of ozone (Sale, 1998).
Abolitionism should also avoid the pitfall of selectivity; the criminological paradigm in discussion should not only stand for the abolition of the prison sentence. It has to invariably provoke to take «crime» seriously, thus to deconstruct it and face the reality of the problematic situations, and to call for political resistance. The latter means that penal abolitionism should not isolate its struggle for the abolition of criminal justice system from the struggle for justice in terms of power and property relationships, because criminologist's research and activity is not something abstract; it is a socio-political fact. Otherwise, penal abolitionism will remain another theoretical experiment, a «safe» caprice of some criminologists, and «will loose the material and ideological framework of its struggle and any prospect of success» (Baratta, 1989: 12). Penal abolitionists should always bear in mind the great power of absorption and neutralisation that is hidden in the process of selection. In abolitionist words, «this selective concentration on particular aspects and features is side-tracking and neutralising in relation to the actual goals of the movement» (Mathiesen, 1983: 6).
Another pitfall of today that penal abolitionists should make every endeavour to avoid is the underestimation of prostitution and the lost of a great chance to build a strong connection with the growing movement of neo-feminism. Unfortunately, apart from the fact that penal abolitionists many times mentioned prostitution as a clear example of victimless crime that should be decriminalised, as far as I search, not much research has been made on this problematic situation. However, the struggle of prostitutes for autonomy and self-regulation should be a high-priority for abolitionists.
Bearing in mind the basic abolitionist principles, we should say that, in an abolitionist point of view, prostitution should be seen as a very serious and complex problematic situation. Its complexity originates mainly from the current class structured and sexist society. It is true that abolitionists have already fight the phenomenon of prostitution in the past; historically, abolitionist have dedicated themselves to rescuing women from prostitution, and training women to find alternative careers or security in marriage. But nowadays, although the goal must be the same, i.e. emancipation of prostitutes in order to bring about the essential abolition of prostitution itself, the approach should be different.
Therefore, in countries where prostitution is considered as «crime», abolitionists have to fight for the decriminalisation (prostitution=victimless crime and no victim=no crime). On the other hand, in countries where prostitution is already decriminalised, things are more complex, therefore the fight will take place in many levels.
The abolitionist and neo-feminist movement are obligated to prevent the abuse and stigmatisation of prostitutes (self employed and others), eradicate laws that deny freedom of association, or freedom to travel to prostitutes or laws that obligate prostitutes to pay extra taxes but no extra benefits. And guarantee prostitutes all human rights and civil liberties (freedom of speech, travel, immigration, work, marriage, motherhood, unemployment insurance, health insurance and housing). Moreover, prostitutes should be educated to periodical health screening from sexually transmitted diseases not in a way that will control and stigmatise them; thus mandatory checks only for prostitutes are unacceptable. Moreover, mass media must be harshly criticised for any attempt by their side to stigmatise prostitutes.
Tout court, prostitutes have the right to have their own private life and this is of high importance for abolitionists.
The movement should make every endeavour to build committees and organisations in every level that would help to insure the protection of the rights of the prostitutes and to whom prostitutes can address their complaints. Simultaneously this organisation should confront phenomena of sex tourism and international trafficking. And it was Christine Bergman, the social democrat minister for women subjects in Germany who holds a clear picture of the problem for her country and advocated recently the necessity for building this kind of organisations of prostitutes. Organisation that will function as trade unions and strong pressure groups for the rights of prostitutes. Therefore, the abolitionist movement and penal abolitionism as its criminological part is obligated to show the hypocritical stance of the state. The left realist Roger Matthews, Advisor of the «All Party Group on Prostitution» in Britain (1995) elegantly described the hypocritical stance of the British state apparatus;

«The state itself says to woman in general that it approves prostitution and gives the │greenlight▓ to enter the prostitution... but for women who operate on the streets or outside of the brothels it says that it is illegal exercise and you will punished - so it is a hypocritical position... Police actions like the arrest of large number of prostitutes or to be more precise re-arrest the same prostitutes, obviously is not a satisfactory way to deal with the problem».

There is great need to support the struggle of women and men whom exploitation is coming from both the state and other people of the community. Because, and there lies the great dept for abolitionists, prostitution is inherently exploitative (violence per se) and what is needed is to fight the phenomenon not the victims of a phenomenon that created by its supposed moral enemies. The ultimate aim is the abolition of prostitution, envisioning a world where no one sells sexual services to another person for any reason.


indice


informativa privacy