Posted by: captainfalcon | February 4, 2012

Infomercial

This article is decent but a bit puffy. Its core claim, for which it cites authority but no first-order evidence:

“Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

It infers from this that the prison population is too high, which, assuming curbing crime is the purpose of the correctional system, seems to follow. But the article is mainly valuable in its arresting presentation of, for purposes of the article’s main argument, essentially random facts about the carceral system and our attitudes toward it. This, for example, is true:

Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized.

And, though its racial overtones may irritate Chris (if he notices them), this captures some overlooked dimensions of the vision of the panopticon:

“The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage,” the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (i.e., actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control.”

Worth a read. (How’d I cell it?)

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