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(en) Czech, AFED: What are prisons for?

Date Wed, 20 May 2020 09:51:18 +0300


Prison does not correct a person. Perhaps all critics of the current penitentiary system agree with this: both reformists and abolitionists. However, there are still differences between them. ---- Proponents of reforms accuse prisoners of utopianism, and in turn are accused of half-hearted measures. "Prison serves as a school of criminal professionalization, it is not a place of redress," wrote MN Gernet, a professor of criminal law in 1930, in In Prison: A Study of Prison Psychology.. However, criticism of prisons was made stronger and clearer later, in the second half of the 20th century. At that time, most Western countries became aware of the "crisis of punishment." Manifestations of this crisis have not disappeared even today: the growth of registered crime, the apparent ineffectiveness of general crime prevention, specifically the high level of recidivism. In addition, numerous studies document the necessary changes in the human psyche (for example, sensory deprivation and changes in the perception of spatial structure, various forms of psychosis, etc.), which occur after five to six years of residence in places of imprisonment.

The 1970s in France were marked by the establishment of the Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons, initiated by Michel Foucault, followed by the work of the Committee on Prisoner Activities. The result was a series of government reforms. However, the Prison Information Group has always stated that it does not propose or demand reforms of the penitentiary system: "No reformism, only a radical revelation of the very intention of 'correcting criminals'."

Another important stage was the emergence of "radical" criminology, which began with a book by British authors Ian R. Taylor, Paul Walton and Jock Young, New Criminology (1973). In their analysis (in the spirit of neo-Marxist criticism), the offender understands himself not only as a victim of justice, but as a victim of society as a whole. The main criminogenic factor is inequality: class, gender, ethnic.

Some contemporary criminologists-abolitionists argue that the type of punishment and the manner of its execution should not be determined by the state, but by relatives and close criminals or victims. Parallels with this view can be found in Sharia law, where in the event of killing or causing damage, the victim's family has the right to impose a punishment: to insist on it, to accept material compensation or to forgive the perpetrator.

The Anarchist Black Cross has traditionally stood up for the abolition of prisons. Among the alternatives proposed by the anarchists are municipal courts and autonomy in deciding punishment issues. In addition, the collapse of capitalist relations is expected to lead to the disappearance of crimes motivated by private property.

Such an opinion seems rather utopian to many, and they therefore consider it more appropriate to correct the shortcomings of the existing penitentiary system. The United Nations International Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has also confirmed in recent reviews that poor conditions for prisoners (both hygienic and social) contribute to the creation of a criminal environment within prisons. Prison overcrowding is a global problem. It can also be observed in Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries.

The inefficiency of the system was again confirmed by the low resocialisation of former prisoners and the high percentage of recidivism. This is characteristic of many countries: in Belarus, recidivism is 50%, in Poland, between 2007 and 2012, the number of repeated violations of the law increased by almost half. And let us not forget the economic factor: the cost of prisoners is rising and their families are often in a miserable situation.

Proponents of prison reform believe that it is necessary to focus on the rehabilitation of a criminal in the trial and an individual approach to the choice of punishment, such as: unconditional sentences. In addition to the positive effect on resocialization, such alternatives to prison sentences are generally less costly.

Many agree that the current penitentiary system needs to change. Some criminologists make very bold prognoses that the prison will disappear in 30 to 40 years. But there is no clear answer as to what will replace them. When we begin to think about what the punishment should be like, a number of questions, unexpected conclusions and contradictions arise, starting with the interpretation of the very understanding of the crime.

What is the basic problem of the current penitentiary system? Is it possible to abolish prison institutions? And what should punishment look like? We turned to former prisoners and human rights defenders with these questions.

Nasta Lojková - Viasna Rights Defense Center (Belarus)

The main shortcomings are the vaguely defined goals of the prison system and the elaborate mechanism for achieving them. Some experts see the main goal of prison in education and re-education, others in compensation, still others in punishment, etc. And this eternal theoretical debate continues at a time when real people are sitting in prisons!

I know too much about torture in our prisons, about the facts of murders by the prison administration. Living conditions in prisons are a particularly painful topic, it would be a long time. It concerns many people. Still, most people don't know about it and they don't care.

It is clear that reform is needed as soon as possible. There are three problems along the way. First: good theoretical preparation, second: financing, third: mentality, psychology. I don't know how long it takes to train a warden to become good.

The current pan-European trend is towards the humanisation of punishment: less and less imprisonment is used for financial and other non-violent crimes, more and more attention is being paid to the conditions of serving a sentence and psychological work with prisoners.

In the theoretical preparation of reforms, it is important to take into account the general responsibility of society for every crime: a person is not born himself as a maniac, that makes him an education, an environment, a society, a state. That is why it is important for everyone to understand and share this responsibility. It is important to increase the psychological culture of the whole society, to work with children in this direction since kindergarten. Social care and the interconnection of people play an important role in this. These are fundamental problems that cannot be solved in a short time, even after we are properly aware of them. In terms of funding, no state wants to invest in prison arrangements. But that's not how it should be. After all, it is part of the general responsibility. It is important to explore and adopt alternative models of the criminal justice system. It is more efficient and cheaper.

It would be good to waive the sentence of imprisonment. Walls cannot make a person better. Only other people can do that. It is claimed that the main advantage of the prison model is prophylaxis, which allegedly prevents a person from committing other crimes, but this effect of imprisonment is short-lived. Punishment must stimulate and develop. Sports, work, psychology would do much better than imprisonment, although the element of coercion would probably remain.

Alexandr Franckevic - anarchist, former political prisoner (Belarus)

In my opinion, the basic problem of the penitentiary system is the fact that it exists. It exists in any country not to correct criminals (a view already criticized by Foucault in the book Supervise and Punish), but to create an atmosphere of fear in society, terror, and to control perpetrators. But it cannot change the image of the life of a man stuck in crime. There is also a lot of talk in Belarus about redressing the prison system, but the police and law enforcement agencies often act as perpetrators of crimes themselves (encouraging someone who works with them to break the law, for example by gaining trust). This is the defined area with which our repressive authorities receive basic official (in the form of detection) and unofficial (in the form of care and "roofing") income, so it is advantageous for them for the treadmill to function without a break. The main problem is in the very existence of prisons and camps.

I am in favor of rethinking many processes in society, for renouncing repressive mechanisms as institutions, for replacing power with direct democracy. This is the basis of my alternative of acting on those who break the law. The current "correctional system" does not correct anyone, but if we are to have such a goal, the only way to combat attacks on other people's lives or health will be general armaments, voluntary self-defense units and a system of sanctions imposed on society's perpetrators.

I think it is possible to reject the prison system. The punishment can be different: from simple rebuke to expulsion from society and killing for particularly serious crimes. The main thing is that these punishments determine social, not state, mechanisms. It can be both a general assembly and a conciliation court, again appointed by the people involved in the process. The question of the death penalty also arises here. My basic criticism of the death penalty in Belarus is based on the fact that this instrument is now a mechanism that does not depend in any way on society and foreign passports on the Belarusian people, as in other countries. Entrusting such a leviathan to the right to dispose of someone else's life is, I think, a very dangerous practice, which is why I am against it in the current conditions. But it seems to me that if society sets sanctions against a criminal and does not solve his problem in individual cases of expulsion (say, in the case of a serial killer), then it does not seem to me a humane choice to put him in a cage and impose his will on him throughout his life. That is why the death penalty seems to me to be an extraordinary form of punishment for mass murderers.

Alexei - former prisoner in an Israeli military prison for trying to deny military service in the army (Ukraine / Israel)

I fully understand the logic and functional significance of this system in capitalism, but it is also necessary to understand that the declared functions do not actually materialize. What functions do they perform de jure? Averting crimes, isolating people and correcting them. The biggest problems with the latter are: there is basically no need to correct people, and if, according to medical indicators, yes, then the prison will not help them. If the cause of most crimes is economic, is it not easier to eliminate it than to try to change people?

I sat in an Israeli military prison for some time and still had the opportunity to be in the role of an involuntary day laborer in a civil prison for Palestinian prisoners. Military prison is very different from ordinary. Putting a soldier in prison is a waste of expenses for both the soldier himself and those who care for him. So the task of a military prison is as follows: in a short sentence with the least possible loss - and, if possible, with the help of a prisoner - to change the convict from a soldier who is not functional to a soldier who is functional. That is why the conscripts sit there for a short time, forcing them to work and conducting intensive training in the discipline to remind them of the "training of the young warrior". In addition, I was in a civil prison. The situation is completely different there: the problem is not with the supervisors not doing dressage as in our country, but with freedom in the general sense. I wouldn't want to be there at all.

Part of the mechanism cannot be repaired without affecting it in its entirety - the prison system cannot be rejected without changing the socio-political system. When we change it, we change the very understanding of "crime" (most of them have economic causes). Then the necessity of imprisonment disappears. Sure, there may be people who will need to be isolated from society due to their mental disruption.

Of course, conditions in Russia and Norway, for example, are different. But the essence doesn't change. In the twenty days I sat in Israel, I was in four different places. It was very bad in solitary confinement, but in civil prison it was better. The problem, however, is not in a comfortable bed or a decent diet, but in restricting exercise and being excluded from the natural environment for life. It is obvious that the established informal system of relations in prison, with any changes, will try to return to its distorted state. Prisoners and guards have already adopted established roles and patterns of behavior, and changing them will be the most difficult of all - strong external control would be needed.

Alexandr Volodarskij - anarcho-syndicalist, action artist, blogger, one of the authors of the Nihilist.li website (Ukraine / Germany)

I came into contact with the Ukrainian penitentiary system from within (I was in custody for a while, in a labor camp for a while), I communicated a lot with prisoners with different lengths of punishment and for various crimes. The basic shortcoming of the penitentiary system is its repressive nature. The system absolutely does not take into account the social cause of the violation of the law and only punishes the people who committed it. Hardness and inefficiency go hand in hand. The prison becomes an autonomous education that does not re-educate the perpetrators, but on the contrary serves to form "criminals" as a special social class and subculture. Prisons, together with the entire criminal justice system, are arranged in such a way that they are never emptied.

I am not so much in favor of reforming prisons as in their liquidation. The penitentiary system is not only anti-human, it is also extremely inefficient. He creates the threats he protects against. In Norway or Sweden, the number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants is several times lower than in Ukraine, and in the USA several times higher. This means that the "criminal establishment of an individual" cannot be overcome by an innate disposition - it is a social phenomenon: the number of criminals directly depends on society, its laws and rules. The risk would, of course, be the necessary transition period, because there are people for whom prison has become a way of life and a single home. They leave him and come back. They need special resocialization and its mechanisms will still need to be developed. But the system itself is not about reform: prisons, courts, police are part of one mechanism, who does not want and does not plan to change. More generally, the whole state, the whole social system and social institutions are somehow based on the fear of imprisonment, so the fight against the penitentiary system is a fight against the whole state.

Imprisonment as a form of punishment must be rejected. The question is whether punishment is necessary at all. I think that effective mechanisms are needed to prevent threats to life, health and freedom. And to achieve that, it is not enough to punish. It is necessary to remove social preconditions (atmosphere of competition, struggle for success, which often has unhealthy forms and leads to violence). Even sociopaths and psychopaths can be fully integrated into society if we teach them to live with their psychic peculiarities. The concept of victimless crimes should disappear completely. As for theft, rioting, fraud, vandalism: a person who commits an offense must be able to compensate and remedy its consequences. The category of "irreparable" includes, for example, rape, serious injury and murder,

There are certainly differences between the penitentiary system of Ukraine and Germany. Until recently, it was very easy to get into custody in Ukraine. The German penal system is much softer, especially for so-called mild offenses. But we will not take it as an example: German prisons are more humane, but they remain factories for the production of criminals. I met a girl who spent a year in a German prison for shoplifting. She told me how women closed to hard drugs before her eyes, how murderers sat together with those who committed a petty offense because there were not enough women's cells. All of this is very reminiscent of Ukraine, perhaps without the black mold on the walls, with better food, health care and less violence from the guards.

Pavel Sapelko - lawyer

In my opinion, the basic shortcoming of the current penitentiary system is that it has gone far beyond the processes that take place in society: progress in science, economics and the social sphere forces us to live differently, to think, to form relationships. The science of punishment is dominated by the Middle Ages. It is time to realize that crime and criminals today and 50 to 100 years ago have different essences and manifestations. The approach to punishing and redressing them should change accordingly. The goals of punishment should also change, not in theory but in practice. To this day, neither the state nor society has lost the understanding of the role of punishment as the execution of revenge; hence the tacit agreement that the rights of prisoners and their social standards are minimized, with rare exceptions. Even rich states can afford to keep criminals at the lower limit of normal.

What could change this situation? It seems that only the joint, free of stereotypes efforts of lawyers, criminologists, psychologists, statisticians, educators. The concept of their efforts may be new concepts of redress and punishment, perhaps re-education. The penalty, especially if the violation of the law affects personal interests, should gradually leave the place to compensatory measures. Punishment in its purest form, which will become an unbearable burden not only for the culprit but also for his loved ones, can be replaced by such obligations, which will fall only on the person who is guilty. Confiscation of property (except in the case of items serving as a means of crime or obtained through crime) can hardly count towards just punishment due to its ambiguity.

And do we have a full-fledged alternative to imprisonment? I don't think so. In a penitentiary system, there is an alternative: restriction or imprisonment at the place of residence. Until now, only the lack or financial demands of the technical possibilities for continuous monitoring of such "prisoners" could be an excuse for the rare use of this form of punishment. Current technological means make it possible to easily combine restrictions on freedom with continuing to attend work, maintaining social ties and fulfilling social and family responsibilities. It is possible to do without imprisonment if a person shows visible progress in behavior after committing a crime: he is aware of and compensates for the damage, changes the environment, finds a job, agrees to various educational measures, learning, etc. In exceptional cases (offenses due to drugs, alcohol, sexual deviance) may, with the consent of the convicted person, replace the sentence with a stay in a medical facility if he is able to correct the offender's behavior. In the case where a person does not show permanent criminal tendencies, and also in all cases where he commits a criminal offense of a minor, it is appropriate to introduce the practice of conviction only if the convicted person does not meet the pre-established conditions. With such forms of punishment, the prospect of stigmatizing occasional offenders disappears, committing a crime will not later become a cause of refusal in employment, in the performance of any activity. Recognizing their responsibility to improve the quality of life, international bodies must adopt revised standards in the area of the rights of persons subject to punishment and imprisonment, because the existing standards do not take into account the above reasons and, in my view, often make progress in penitentiary impossible.

Source: ABC Belarus

Published in Existence No. 1/2015 on the topic of Commons.

https://www.afed.cz/text/7173/k-cemu-jsou-veznice
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