“Incarceration is supposed to isolate criminals, keeping them away from one another and the rest of us so they can’t cause any more harm. But with a wireless handset, an inmate can slip through walls and locked doors at will and maintain a digital presence in the outside world.” (Wired Magazine, 17.06)
There is a constant struggle inside my head about where I stand on imprisonment. And I mean constant. The notion of individual freedom & the impact of that notion by the Other is something that I am always unsure of. I am sure that there are certain actions and certain states-of-mind which require an individual to be “isolated”. But I do not know if that is the actual purpose of incarceration.
Similarly, I am convinced that incarceration, be it house arrest or a solitary confinement 4ft*8ft box in a Siberian gulag is more sinister than a simple prevention system. Not just as an obvious weapon for submission & fear, or the typical capitalist profit-is-the-ultimate-motive explanation, but as something which is a result of the way society is structured. I have written before about how, once imprisoned, for all practical purposes, an individual dissapears off the face of the earth, maybe to re-appear, but forever altered. Later, when I read more about it, I realised I had only scratched the surface. Foucault writes about how punishment was earlier public, but in modern times has slipped under the surface, to become hidden from all view, a different culture, a different system. And that is exactly what disconcerts me about it. There is a terrifying vulnarability that a prisoner faces, even in free-press regulated societies such as the States. The laws of an imprisoned system are so radically different from that of the one Outside. The canons of Human Rights & Liberties, are by the very definition of incarceration, either completely suspended, or massively curtailed. The notions of food, space, love, time & life itself are re-structured.
What purpose does this social system serve. Crime is not caused by a lack of imprisonment, and therefore imprisonment cannot alone alter any of the conditions that cause crime, in any of its forms. Yes, a rapist is better isolated. Yes, a man who maims and then kills 4-year old children to farm them for the Lord can be safely judged as unfit for society if found guilty. But crime is a social phenomenon. Incarceration is simply one way in which to deal with it. Do we imprison people because we are now too civilized to guillotine and because the State wants to be “better” than the individuals it punishes. Is it a better trade-off because we have not found/fear a neuter weapon for society. Is not imprisonment simply a massively flawed neuter system. Flawed not because I am questioning its efficacy from the point of view of those on the Outside, but those Inside.
Then again, if the ones on the Inside, do deserve to be dealt with (dealt with, not punished), what is the alternative? Other than fixing the ills of society and other such balder-dash. Films and literature often deal with the myth of the wronged ones, thereby questioning the established order within prisons. But what about the ones who aren’t wronged. The ones who need to be isolated. Is there a way in which thier behaviour can be altered to better suit societies. And would that be a greater infringement of their freedom than incarceration? Frankly, I don’t know…