Posts Tagged ‘disciplinary society’

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“Prisoner work camps run in military style under study by N.S.,” The Globe and Mail. October 13, 1983. Page 10.

SYDNEY, N.S. – SYDNEY, N.S. (CP) – Most people convicted in Nova Scotia courts lack discipline, pride and motivation and those who aren’t dangerous would benefit from work camps run in army fashion, Attorney-General Harry How said yesterday.

Mr. How said his department will consider the idea of work camps for convicts when it takes over the operation of correctional centres from municipalities next year.

The minister told delegates to the annual conference of the Atlantic Provinces Criminology and Corrections Association that jailing “the disadvantaged person who turned to crime” brings him in touch with dangerous criminals who are likely to be the worst influence.

But probation is not the answer either, Mr. How said, because “they would be going back to the same underdisciplined and unmotivating environment that got them into trouble in the first place.” In 1979, he recommended developing a special corps of the Canadian Forces for non-dangerous criminals, but the Defence Department did not like the idea. “Some said it would reflect badly on the armed services,” the minister recalled.

Mr. How said he still believes the idea is a good one and if it cannot be implemented at the national level he will pursue it in Nova Scotia. “We have to motivate people and we have to give them the vision without which they would perish. ’‘These people aren’t bad. These people need somebody, some mechanism, or some program to give them a new sense of worth and a new sense of motivation.” Mr. How said the program could be run by a former army officer who would give criminals the disclipline and physical work they need to develop strong bodies. High school and trades teachers would be available to “excite their minds.” The program could develop projects in forestry, park development and the cutting of fuel wood for senior citizens, but would not intrude on the regular job market, Mr. How said.

Dennis Finlay, a spokesman for the Correctional Services Canada, said he knew of no one in the federal department developing a similar program of work camps.

But Mr. Finlay noted that the federal service already has forestry camps in Nova Scotia for inmates and is looking at eventually setting up an isolated penal community, which he said may be modelled on an island penal community in Mexico.

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– from Dialectical Adventures into the Unknown (1974), Spontaneous Combustion.

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“If self-help became the fundamental principle by which the validity of relief would be measured, this was not only because it constituted the supreme objective of a successful intervention in working-class life, as per the philanthropic doctrine of welfare that had been well understood since the end of the eighteenth century, if not earlier. It is also because this principle came to serve as the main criterion used to distinguish autonomous families, who were entitled to short-term household assistance, from paupers, whose lot was to be confined within the workhouses of the Victorian era. This principle would henceforth serve to distinguish poverty from pauperism, to assign each a territory and a topical remedy. The authorities had swiftly learned to differentiate the two, of course, but they had often drawn the line at the boundary between classes rather than attempting to judge the extent of the pauper’s moral depravity. Pauperism was merely the extreme form of the working classes’ deep-seated inability to either adapt to economic laws, or (as conservatives hoped) to recreate bonds of dependency. In either case, the pauperized urban masses suggested a possible future for societies. Their existence offered evidence of congenital vice among the poor to all those Malthusians searching for it, just as it suggested to liberals the need for organized, large-scaled societal intervention in favour of all the poor, with private initiative and government collaboration on this work of social reconstruction.

But from the moment when personal and civil autonomy became the criterion used to classify poverty – when the urban industrial environment ceased to be a cause of poverty and instead became the dominant context for the manifestation of dependency – it became possible to image society as composed of two separate, coexisting worlds: that of ‘natural poverty’ the structural constraint inflecting the trajectory of all workers and peasants, and that of pauperism, an abject, immoral ghetto inhabited by those members of society who had failed the test of autonomy. Antoine-Elisée

Cherbuliez explained this separation, in 1853, as follows:

That which makes modern pauperism a blot on society, that which makes it frightening and dangerous, is its ordinary alliance with a state of mindlessness and depravity in the mass of individuals, an all-too natural effect of their agglomeration and their homogeneity. Instead of being disseminated throughout the population of a region, indigents form a separate ‘population unto themselves’; instead of a localized infection found in all station of society, they form a separate class, a whole body infirm…to destroy moral poverty would be the true means of driving physical poverty back within its normal bounds, and this is, in truth, all one may hope to obtain by the most energetic and continuous action of the most enlightened charity. When we have reached that point, we will have beaten pauperism; there will remain only a small sum of accidental misery, which would always be an evil, no doubt but would no longer constitute a scourge. There would still be plenty of individual suffering, many miserable lives; but society’s progress would no longer be halted, its economic development disrupted, its vital principle attacked by the scourge of collective poverty, which, by causing whole categories of workers to fall into savagery, gathers little by little, around the same hearths where civilization is being most actively developed, a people foreign to any civilization.

Two fundamental corollaries flow from this separation:

1. On the one hand, the isolation of pauperism as an easily discernible social ill, as a separate world populated by failed citizens, allows for the ‘rehabilitation’ of ordinary poverty as a normal or even legitimate social phenomenon. Poverty is the habitual condition of the working classes and constitutes a characteristic of their environment. It becomes unacceptable only when it reaches a degree of intensity that threatens the survival of the honest family. Poverty is an essentially human condition that renders human beings more vulnerable to life’s unfortunate circumstances. The discourse of liberalism had a last learned to reconcile progress with poverty. Progress was no longer the emergence of a free people from the Egypt of ancestral poverty and arbitrariness. Instead it had become the sum of small individual victories over adversity: poverty was at once the precondition, the environment, and the fertile soil in which the possibility of a better life for all could take root.

Thus, the kind of poverty literally constituted the condition for the existence of civil society. It was not a political issue, or even really a social problem. Fundamentally, it derived from the inherent dynamics of civil society and was to be confined thereto. This explains why private charity reigned supreme in the economy of welfare. Not only because state charity was clumsy and dangerous, a pretext for demands formulated in terms of rights, but quite simply and more fundamentally because ‘normal’ poverty, as a general rule, demands relief only in its accidental manifestations, on the surface of civil society. Honest workers and toiling peasants were members of the autonomous poor struggling to survive and, if possible, thrive in a hard world. The will was their driving force, the aspiration to a better life their sustenance. If an accident such as illness or temporary unemployment were to befall them, charity was there to fill the gap. However, an accident is but is nature unforeseeable, unique, circumstantial. Poverty, like accidents in general, was thus the concern of those most able to intervene at the right place and time – that is, neighbours, the community, or the local relief organization (itself staffed by neighbours). Private charity, whatever its forms – whether secular or religious, ethnically based or municipal, outdoor or indoor, occasional or long-term, and whether it dispensed goods or services – was the ineluctable horizon of this ‘normal’ poverty.

2. On the other hand, the mass of pauperized individuals was excluded from the ordinary poverty that continued, for the time being, to bedevil the still-imperfect liberal societies. This mass of people was the precise equivalent of the more or less irretrievable criminals found in the liberal prisons. Political economy, so loquacious on the conditions of production and consumption, professed its powerlessness in the face of this marginal population, which had to be recorded as a liability on the balance sheet of progress, as noted by 

Antoine-Elisée Cherbuliez in 1853:

On the question of pauperism, political economy affords little but negative insights. It rejects state intervention as always impotent and often dangerous; it likewise rejects any system of social organization founded on the negation of property or the family, or on the right to work, as promising nothing but universal misery and societal dissolution. But the full exposition of these economic doctrines, and the refutation of errors and utopias…in no way contain the solution to our problem. They teach us only that it remains unresolved, and prevent us from taking red herrings for solutions.

But if pauperism has no solution, at least in the short term it nonetheless demands a response. If it is not to be cured, it can be perhaps at least contained. As in the case of criminals, confinement begins to take on the hues of a segregation procedure in which the ideal of reform gives way to prophylactic isolation. Here again, the Foucauldian notion of disciplinary treatment is of no use in grasping the meaning of the institutions of confinement in the economy of relief. Workhouses were not instruments of disciplinary knowledge. The new hub and spokes structures were not panopticons and in their regimes disciplinary techniques played a blind, repressive role. Generally, official strategy did not positively aim to reform and remake individual paupers. The aim was negatively to repress pauperism by making indoor relief thoroughly unattractive and making outdoor relief unobtainable for able-bodied men.

Unlike the charitable aid dispensed by the private sector, which was sensitive to the specificities of each case, the confinement of ‘degraded’ elements of the working classes was a systematic procedure based on the notion that anyone who willingly applied for and submitted to it must surely be unable to meet his own needs. This was the primary, fundamental criterion making the workhouse, the house of industry, or the beggar’s prison, more an instrument of discrimination than a place of refuge or assistance. A general distinction among those interned was established on the basis of the treatment accorded them, between the obligate dependency of abandoned children, the infirm, the elderly, or the insane, on the one hand, and the morally condemnable dependency of unemployed but able adults, on the other. But the particular circumstances of dependency were ultimately secondary to the facts of desperation and self-selection that gave rise to the institutionalization of extreme poverty. 

Moreover, despite the extreme discourse of the hard-liners of political economy, the validity of state intervention in this area was seldom challenged. A population without any great hope for reform, dangerous to the mass of honest citizens, and burdensome to administer had to be excluded, and appeals for state intervention to accomplish this were inevitable, if only for lack of something better – as Lambert stated in 1873:

The very existence of a poor law, the very fact that there does exist a provision for all who cannot provide for themselves, is a direct incentive to pauperism, and to the neglect of social ties…Do not think that I wish to say hard things against it. I say that for the time being it is the best, the only method of dealing with a great evil…I look forward to a time when we shall return to the original principle of the poor law, and consider poverty a crime.

Lambert makes it clear that the ‘poverty’ at issue here is that of pauperism, that form of extreme poverty in which so many people perpetually subsist. The poverty of paupers is a social crime of sorts, a violation of the conditions of life in society. It may be largely set down to a lack of foresight an inability to provide for one’s dependents, an unfitness for stable employment. It is a crime by omission, and the elites have learned to distinguish it from ‘true’ crime of the deliberate, or premeditated variety, yet it still dictates confinement for the individuals in question. Whether managed by the public authorities or otherwise, the institutions in which paupers were confined gave them special visibility by virtue of their physical segregation from ordinary poverty. It now became possible, and indeed tempting, to ascribe specific characteristics, or even physical or psychological idiosyncrasies, to this population – to categorize paupers as ‘defective, dependent, and delinquent’ in Wines’ 1888 words. The people living in prisons, houses of industry, asylums, and even hospitals became symptomatic of a sui generis social pathology on the basis of which they could be isolated from all forms of solidarity and marked as counterexamples of social normality. In this way, the problem they represented could be reduced to a localized condition of an otherwise fundamentally healthy social body.”

– Jean-Marie Fecteau, The Pauper’s Freedom. Translated by Peter Feldstein. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017. French edition 2004. pp.176-181 

Image: W. H. Davenport, “Skulkers from work – 

Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,

No. CXCVIII, Vol. XXXIII, November 1866. p. 686. From the NYPL Collection, ID 810126

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In 1930, Helene Adelaide Shelby patented an apparatus for obtaining
criminal confessions.  The police put the suspect into a darkened
chamber where they are confronted by a human skeleton with glowing red
eyes that questions them with a voice transmitted from the interrogator
behind it, through a megaphone in its mouth. A camera concealed in the
skull was to record the confessions

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The New Penology – INNOVATIONS

“Our description may seem to imply the onset of a reactive age in which
penal managers strive to manage populations of marginal citizens with no
concomitant effort toward integration into mainstream society. This may
seem hard to square with the myriad new and innovative technologies introduced
over the past decade. Indeed the media, which for years have portrayed
the correctional system as a failure, have recently enthusiastically
reported on these innovations: boot camps, electronic surveillance, high
security “campuses” for drug users, house arrest, intensive parole and probation,
and drug treatment programs. 

Although some of the new proposals are presented in terms of the “old
penology” and emphasize individuals, normalization, and rehabilitation, it is
risky to come to any firm conviction about how these innovations will turn
out. If historians of punishment have provided any clear lessons, it is that
reforms evolve in ways quite different from the aims of their proponents. Thus, we wonder if these most recent
innovations won’t be recast in the terms outlined in this paper. Many of these
innovations are compatible with the imperatives of the new penology, that is,
managing a permanently dangerous population while maintaining the system
at a minimum cost. 

One of the current innovations most in vogue with the press and politicians
are correctional “boot camps.” These are minimum security custodial facilities,
usually for youthful first offenders, designed on the model of a training
center for military personnel, complete with barracks, physical exercise, and
tough drill sergeants. Boot camps are portrayed as providing discipline and
pride to young offenders brought up in the unrestrained culture of poverty (as
though physical fitness could fill the gap left by the weakening of families,
schools, neighborhoods, and other social organizations in the inner city). 

The camps borrow explicitly from a military model of discipline, which has
influenced penality from at least the eighteenth century – 

the prison borrowed from the earlier innovations in the organization of spaces and bodies undertaken by the most advanced European military forces.   No doubt the
image of inmates smartly dressed in uniforms performing drills and calisthenics
appeals to long-standing ideals of order in post-Enlightenment culture.
But in its proposed application to corrections, the military model is even less
appropriate now than when it was rejected in the nineteenth century; indeed,
today’s boot camps are more a simulation of discipline than the real thing.  

In the nineteenth century the military model was superseded by another model of discipline, the factory. Inmates were controlled by making them
work at hard industrial labor. It was
assumed that forced labor would inculcate in offenders the discipline required
of factory laborers, so that they might earn their keep while in custody and
join the ranks of the usefully employed when released. One can argue that
this model did not work very well, but at least it was coherent. The model of
discipline through labor suited our capitalist democracy in a way the model
of a militarized citizenry did not. 

The recent decline of employment opportunities among the populations of
urban poor most at risk for conventional crime involvement has left the applicability
of industrial discipline in doubt. But the substitution of the boot
camp for vocational training is even less plausible. Even if the typical 90-day
regime of training envisioned by proponents of boot camps is effective in
reorienting its subjects, at best it can only produce soldiers without a company
to join. Indeed, the grim vision of the effect of boot camp is that it will
be effective for those who will subsequently put their lessons of discipline and
organization to use in street gangs and drug distribution networks. However,
despite the earnestness with which the boot camp metaphor is touted, we
suspect that the camps will be little more than holding pens for managing a
short-term, mid-range risk population.” 

– Malcolm M. Feeley & Jonathan Simon, “The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and Its Implications.” 30 Criminology 449 (1992), pp. 463-464.

Image is: “Inmates jog laps aound their barracks They are in a High Impact Incarceration Program at Rikers Island, mid-1990s.

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“If praxis obscures its own present impossibility with the opiate of collectivity, it becomes in its turn ideology. There is a sure sign of this: the question “what is to be done?” as an automatic reflex to every critical thought before it is fully expressed, let alone comprehended. Nowhere is the obscurantism of the latest hostility to theory so flagrant. It recalls the gesture of someone demanding your papers. More implicit and therefore all the more powerful is the commandment: you must sign. The individual must cede himself to the collective; as recompense for his jumping into the melting pot, he is promised the grace of being chosen, of belonging. Weak and fearful people feel strong when they hold hands while running. This is the real turning point of dialectical reversal into irrationalism. Defended with a hundred sophisms, inculcated into adepts with a hundred techniques for exerting moral pressure, is the idea that by abandoning one’s own reason and judgment one is blessed with a higher, that is, collective reason; whereas in order to know the truth one needs that irreducibly individual reason that, it is nowadays incessantly belabored, is supposedly obsolete and whose message has long since been refuted and laid to rest by the comrades’ superior wisdom. One falls back upon that disciplinarian attitude the communists once practiced. What once was deadly serious and bore terrible consequences when the situation still seemed undecided is now repeated as comedy in the pseudo-revolutions.”

– Theodor Adorno, Marginalia to Theory and Praxis. 1968

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