Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thought of the Day

" There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails."

Mark Twain

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Thought of the Day

"To assert in any case that a man must be absolutely cut off from society because he is absolutely evil amounts to saying that society is absolutely good, and no-one in his right mind will believe this today."

Albert Camus (1913-60)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Men's Justice for Women

I am not sure of the source of this article orginally published on the No More Prison website. I suspect it may have come from Justice for Women.
My name is Donna Tinker. I am a 30-year-old woman currently serving a life sentence for taking the life of the man I loved. Sadly my story is a very familiar one. After years of being in this abusive relationship, on the 13th June 1999, he became a victim of this relationship too. The depth of pain and remorse I feel for my husband dying by my hand is something I am incapable of putting into words. I never wanted or meant for this to happen. It started as just another argument that moved as it always did on to him hitting me. This night in particular he'd kicked me in the face and punched me. But then he picked a hot iron up, and I panicked. I was just trying to stop him hurting me anymore. I couldn't and still can't make sense of my trial. No witnesses were called for my defence. I trusted my legal team, as in a situation like this you have no choice but to put your trust in them. Shouldn't I have been advised that witnesses were needed so they could establish the nature of the relationship between my husband and myself? Wouldn't this have been crucial information the jury should have heard?
Donna Tinker
The Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, set up by the charitable Fawcett Society a couple of years ago made the case that women are increasingly turning to serious and violent crimes because they have been brutalised by violence against them, and that they turn to crime for different reasons from men, and that the criminal justice system is failing to tackle this. A trend was revealed of women being forced into drug dealing by abusive partners they feared, while for others offending was closely linked to a history of violence against them. Murder, the intentional and unlawful killing of another human, carries a mandatory life sentence. In some cases the killing of another human is 'justified' in which case the charge of murder is dropped and the defendant set free. In other cases the killing is 'excused' but not totally justified. In these cases the charge of murder is reduced to manslaughter and the judge decides the sentence. The sentence can range from life imprisonment to a community service order. However, the law concerning murder in the UK is inherently gendered. By looking at the legal defences to murder we see how they represent a male understanding of the crime and men's experiences of killing.

There are three main defences to a charge of murder: Self defence is a full defence and results in an acquittal. Self defence can be argued if the defendant can show that their life was in imminent danger. However, in claiming self defence it must also be shown that 'proportional force' was used. So, if the person killed were attacking with their bare fists the use of a knife would be disproportionate. This defence ignores the physical discrepancies between men and women. It also ignores the fact that many women are in fear because of their past experiences of violence from the man.

Diminished responsibility is a partial defence and reduces a murder charge to manslaughter. To argue diminished responsibility the defendant must prove that their mind was impaired by an abnormality at the time of the killing. This defence shifts the focus from a man's violence to the woman's state of mind. Diminished responsibility medicalises women's actions and implies that had their mental faculties not been impaired they would have continued to be a willing punch bag. It can include the argument that the woman was suffering from 'Battered Woman's Syndrome' which is based on two fundamental premises: a cycle model of violence and 'learned helplessness'. For BWS to apply a woman must have been through this cycle at least once, and a cluster of symptoms develop through which the syndrome can be diagnosed. These include: low self-esteem, self-blame, anxiety, depression, fear, suspiciousness and loss of belief in the possibility of change. BWS is recognised as a formal clinical syndrome within post traumatic stress disorder. Lawyers frequently ask if there is a 'syndrome' or very specialised research evidence which will demonstrate a particular point. Both rest on medicalising and particularising what is an extremely common social event; the use of physical and sexual violence by men against women and children. The language in many of the US cases shows that courts understand BWS as a new and excusable form of female irrationality. Alarmingly BWS is increasingly being used in criminal and civil cases to establish what constitutes a battered woman. If women do not fit the model then it is being argued that they were not in fact abused. It has been argued that BWS should not be considered a medical abnormality, but a mental state which is normal in particular circumstances, relevant to all defences including self-defence and duress.
Provocation is also a partial defence. To use the defence it has to be shown that the provoking act was such that a 'reasonable man' would have responded as the defendant did under the same circumstances. Further, it must also be shown that the killing was the result of a sudden and temporary loss of self-control. The defence of provocation ignores the history of violence experienced by women by focusing only on the events immediately prior to the killing. There is no consistency in the application and understanding of the defence when it is used by women. This is because it is based on the idea of a man being provoked when another man insults his 'honour'. The immediate retaliation expected of the offended man ignores the particular experiences of women subjected to male violence.
As male violence against women continues to be a phenomenon in itself, infidelity remains the most frequent excuse for killing of wives and girlfriends. Men who kill their wives or girlfriends or ex partners and plead diminished responsibility or provocation nearly always walk free or get short sentences for manslaughter.
  • In 1991 Joseph McGrail was tried in Birmingham for the murder of his wife. He pleaded provocation on the basis that his wife was an alcoholic and swore at him. He killed her by repeatedly kicking her in the stomach. At the trial the judge commented ..."this lady would have tried the patience of a saint", he gave him a two year suspended sentence.
  • In 1995 Brian Steadman was jailed for three years after he hit her 13 times with a hammer, he pleaded diminished responsibility due the his wife's constant nagging.
  • In 1997 Joseph Swinburne killed his wife by stabbing her eleven times when she told him she was leaving him for another man. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 200 hours community service.
  • In 1992 Judge Dennison gave Bisla Rajinder Singh, an 18 month sentence suspended for one year for the manslaughter of his wife on the grounds of provocation. The judge told him "you have suffered through no fault of your own....your wife was a domineering lady with a sharp and persistent tongue".
  • Lucy Kellet was preparing to leave Oliver Kellet after years of abuse. As she as waiting for the removal van to take her to her new home he stabbed her repeatedly with a bowie knife. He pleaded manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was given 3 year probation.
Compare these with the following women

  • In 1989 after 10 years of severe violence against her Kiranjit Aluwhalia threw petrol over her husbands feet and set it alight whilst he was sleeping, he died some days later. She was arrested and charged with murder, she was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • In 1992 Zoora Shah snapped after 12 years of physical and sexual violence when her partner turned his attention to her eldest daughter. She poisoned him and was convicted of murder, sentenced to life with a minimum of 20 years, she is still in prison.
  • In 1993 Josephine Smith shot her husband after many years of violence when he threatened to track her down and kill her and their three children if she left him. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life with a minimum of 12 years.
  • In 1989 Malcolm Thornton, an alcoholic, threatened to kill his wife Sara and her daughter in their sleep, he taunted her with a knife. The police had been called to the home on numerous occasion throughout their relationship by Sara because of his attacks on her and he was in fact due to appear in court on an assault charge 10 days after he died. Sara feared for her own and for her daughter's life. She stabbed him once and called an ambulance. She pleaded guilty on grounds of diminished responsibility, she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • For four years Peter Iles persecuted Janet Gardner using violence, threats and harassment. On one occasion he tried to cut her throat, he beat and kicked her and burnt her with cigarettes. During the attack which led to his death he grabbed her round the neck and started beating her head against the kitchen doorway. Janet grabbed a knife and stabbed him seven times. She was cleared of murder but found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to five years in prison.

Margo Wilson and Martin Daly's work on domestic homicide has used data sets from a number of industrialised countries. One of the most important findings from their research is that leaving an abusive partner is actually the most dangerous thing women can do. Women have always known this, it is professionals who have taken an extremely long time to understand that well-founded fear is one of the most potent reasons why women do not leave violent men. Wilson and Daly also calculated that on the basis of recent figures the sex ratio for spouse killing is that for every 100 men who kill wives 23 women kill husbands. Women who kill have often experienced repeated and life threatening violence, with a greater frequency of coerced sex. Almost all the women had also attempted to leave and elicit the support of other agencies in their struggles to end violence. Many talk of reaching a point where they believe only one of them can survive. The basic question which should be addressed in such cases is: was the woman's use of violence in this particular circumstance reasonable given her size, strength and perception of danger. In terms of battered women who kill more appropriate reforms would be extending remit of self-defence.

The failure of murder defences to adequately reflect women's actual experiences is the reason why some feminists and women's rights activists are campaigning for a new defence to murder - self-preservation. Self-preservation is intended as a partial defence, and although not gender specific it is revolutionary in that it takes the circumstances which women commonly find themselves in (as opposed to those of men) as its point of departure. The proposed defence is a partial defence, reducing a charge of murder to manslaughter. It reflects the experiences of anyone subjected to repeated assaults or sexual abuse and acknowledges their responses as rational within an intolerable situation.

The proposed self - preservation defence:

It shall be a defence to a charge of murder, reducing the charge to manslaughter, if:
  • the deceased person had subjected the defendant or another person, with whom the defendant was at the time of the deceased person's death in a familial relationship, to continuing sexual or physical violence and
  • the deceased person was at the time of their death or had at any time been in a familial or intimate relationship with the defendant or with the person as described in (a) above and
  • the defendant believed that, but for their action, the deceased person would repeat the violence as stated above, so that their life or that of the person as described in (a) above was in danger.
In Section 1 above: 'Familial' means related, cohabiting or living in the same household 'Continuing' means any act of violence as defined below on more than one occasion 'Violence' means any act that would constitute an offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Sexual Offences Act 1975 (as amended), or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 'Intimate' means any sexual relationship not included in the definition of 'familial' 'Belief' must be reasonable in the context of ongoing abuse and violence.

It shall be for the defence to raise the issue where the circumstances are as outlined in Section1 above, and it will then be for the prosecution to prove that Section 1 does not apply.

The response of the Home Affairs Select Committee in rejecting the proposal as a useful way forward was that such a concept was unknown in English law, and that it suggested that such actions by abused women might be rational implying that mad women can be understood, bad women punished, but women as rational and creative survivors don?t exist. BWS plays into this invisibility by only allowing women to occupy the position of depressed and despairing victim. A couple of successes have been made on certain points in the cases of women appealing against their convictions for assaults on abusive partners:

Cumulative provocation at the hands of abusive partners can be considered with the final act of provocation; the judiciary has moved over the last few years in its interpretation of "provocation", influenced by feminist campaigners.

The characteristics of the "reasonable man" concerns the aspect of the defence of provocation, where the jury are directed to consider the characteristics of the "reasonable man". This is an area of law that has expanded over the last twenty years. The "reasonable man" is the yardstick by which the jury is supposed to consider what is reasonable behaviour, as opposed to an unreasonable reaction to an act of provocation.

The courts are also indirectly recognising the relevance of a long term history of abuse back to childhood through looking at so-called reasonable reactions to abusive partners where the act of provocation is somehow connected with such characteristics. The judiciary are finally accepting the argument that domestic violence and abuse are sufficient grounds for provocation. However, it is no where near convincing that even with the creation of new precedents the law will really work for women or be in any way "fair". Present defences largely ignore male violence.

Thought of the Day

"I think we need to create productive conversations and develop activism among different groups. We need activists, of course, but also intellectuals and scholars, people from the labor movement, women's movement, prisoners, former prisoners. We need to learn how to talk to and with each other. We need to develop new vocabularies.......we have to recognize our own potential power"

Angela Davis (1998)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Prison Decayed: How Prison Films Support the Expansion of the Penal Estate

This article was published on the NMP website in 2006

by Paul Mason, Cardiff University


Ten years ago, Michael Howard, then British Home Secretary delivered his speech to the Conservative party faithful at their annual conference:
Prison works. It ensures we are protected from murderers, muggers and rapists - and it makes many who are tempted to commit crime think twice...This may mean that more people will go to prison. I do not flinch from that. We shall no longer judge the success of our justice by a fall in our prison population. (Michael Howard, Conservative Party Conference, October 1995.)
Two years previously, his counterpart in the Labour Party and then Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair, was writing in The New Statesman that Labour should become 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'(1993: 100). The increased politicisation of British criminal justice policy, over the last ten years in particular, has been matched with a correlative hardening of penal sanctions, a development mirrored in the United States (Garland 2001; Mathiesen 2000; Wacquant 2005; 2006), to the extent that now 'a failure to talk tough on crime is akin to political suicide' (Newburn and Jones 2005). Such a stance has meant that in November 2005, the prison population in England and Wales was 77,421, the second highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe (Prison Reform Trust 2005).

However, the contention that high prison rates mean lower crime is fundamentally flawed and remains a myth (Christie 2000; Dyer 2000; Jacobson 2005; Parenti 1999). This, coupled with the injustice and inhumanity of a system which locks up the socially excluded (Prison Reform Trust, 2005), a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities (Home Office, 2004) and those with mental health problems (Prison Reform Trust, 2005) clearly demonstrates the pressing need for alternatives to and the abolition of the prison system.

Many see the increased punitiveness in criminal justice policy as a populist reaction to the problems of crime (Garland 2001; Hutton 2005; Johnstone 2000; Loader 2005; Pratt 2000; Roberts et al. 2002; Ryan 2006). That pressure from an angry public, mediated through tabloid headlines, demands more displays of repressive punishment such as longer prison sentences, boot camps, tighter controls on sex offenders, anti-social behaviour orders and so on. Punishment becomes crueller, more emotive and ostentatious (Pratt 2000) as public insecurities about crime and the criminal intensify.

However, what has been lacking in this analysis is any engagement with media representations of prison and punishment, how and why they may contribute to the punitive in the public sphere. Only Mathiesen (Mathiesen 2000; 2001; 2003) has offered any meaningful thoughts on how media discourses around prison may intervene in the penal debate, and these are relatively brief. Adopting a similar position to those writing on penal populism, he posits that changes in government discourse around criminal justice policy have shifted from legal and moral values to opportunistic and media/public driven ones. The nature of public debate around crime and punishment has consequently altered, no longer predicated upon 'principled legitimation' (Mathiesen 2003: 3). He further suggests that media reporting magnifies violent and serious crime such that prison is constructed as the only solution:
In the newspapers, on television, in the whole range of media, the prison is simply not recognised as a fiasco, but as a necessary if not always fully successful method of reaching its purported goals. The prison solution is taken as paradigmatic, so that a rising crime rate is viewed as still another sign showing that prison is needed.'
(Mathiesen 2000: 144)
While Mathiesen's argument is a surely correct, it would be strengthen by an examination of the media coverage of prisons to which he refers. I offer here an examination of one prison discourse in popular culture: the prison film. I will argue that, over the last ten years the prison film has represented incarceration around two elements, both of which significantly impact upon debates around penal reform and abolition. Firstly, the graphic exploitation of violence and sexual assault in prison films is predominantly depicted voyeuristically and remains severed from any abolitionist or reformist context. While scenes of explicit brutality may present opportunities for the prison film to challenge the very existence of the penal estate, any oppositional discourse is subjugated to the lurid mise en scene of violence and sexual assault. Secondly, the representation of inmates as dehumanised other and deserving of harsh treatment, coupled with an avoidance of abolitionist narratives in death row films reaffirms the prison as the cornerstone of criminal justice sanctions. My analysis looks at English language prison films given a cinematic release between 1st January 1995 and 31st December 2005. This amounts to 28 films which are listed at the end.


Many of the films in the sample represent prison as a brutal, uncivilised place which punishes, degrades and humiliates. Potentially, such a construction of the penal system suggests a discourse of reform. Namely, an exploration of the futility and inhumanity of incarceration, made visible by such texts, presents an opportunity to raise the profile in public debate and mobilise opinion towards reform and abolition of the prison industrial complex.
However, a closer reading of the sample reveals not only a reluctance to challenge the existing penal system, but a scoptophilic treatment of violence, rape and death. Such acts are frequently presented in narratives across the sample, rarely framed within any considered or developed critique of prison. Instead, these elements offer are located within an exploitative agenda, in which vivid violence, rape and other sexual assaults are foregrounded. These are constructed in two principle ways, through pre-emptive talk and iconography; and in graphic displays.

In the sample analysed, prison is habitually and, crucially, immediately constructed within a discourse of violence and fear. The films define prison through its capacity for brutality and to instill terror. It is constructed in this way from the outset and, as I discuss later, rarely shifts or challenges this initial construction. Such a discourse is frequently built visually and aurally through the early scenes of prison. This often occurs via long shots of the prison façade accompanied by aggressive rap or rock music (Down Time, dir. Sean Wilson, 2001; A Letter From Death Row, dir. Marvin Baker & Bret Michaels 1998; Slam, 1998; Prison Song, dir. Darnel Martin, 2003) or the doom-laden orchestral score (Brokedown Palace or Just Cause, dir. Arne Glimcher, 1995). Alternatively, the viewer experiences the first steps inside the prison from the point of view of the newly-convicted inmate as they are processed through the system.

In The Mean Machine (dir. Barry Skolnick, 2001) for example, Danny Meehan, the film's protagonist, is shot walking towards the camera, along a corridor. When the scene cuts, the camera has switched behind him as he walks up the steps and into the main prison where he, and consequently the audience, is greeted by a cacophony of noise and abuse from other inmates shouting directly into the camera. This scene is very similar to the entrance into the main prison of newly convicted Slim in Down Time, and variations on this scene are to be found in Slam, Prison Song, A Letter From Death Row and Animal Factory. In the latter, the entry of new inmate Ron Decker to prison is again shot from his point of view, as the camera pans round the prison exercise yard, inmates are framed in close-up, mostly in vests, heavily tattooed, muscular and lifting weights, or prowling round the yard, staring. The correlation between prison and violence (as well as masculinity) is clearly expounded in these initial constructions of prison.

In other films in the sample, frequently those dealing with death row, the audience is positioned with, and as, the outsider: as a lawyer defending the convicted inmate (Just Cause, The Chamber (dir. James Foley, 1996), Last Dance (dir. Bruce Beresford, 1996)), a friend (Dead Man Walking (dir. Tim Robbins, 1996)) or a journalist (Life of David Gale (dir. Alan Parker, 2003)) but still within the fear/violence discourse. This is accomplished primarily through a focus on security, threat and danger. In all these texts, the visitor is repeatedly seen passing through wire gates, steel doors, metal detectors and other scanning equipment. Aural cues of incarceration are prominent in these scenes: doors slam, buzzers sound, keys jangle, gates creak and footsteps of prison officers echo, all mixed with the foreboding drone of the film's soundtrack. In Just Cause, retired and visible uneasy lawyer Paul Armstrong is asked by a laughing prison guard 'This your first time, Mr Armstrong?' In The Life of David Gale, journalists Bitsey Bloom and Zack Stemmons are taken through a maze of gates, doors and corridors on their way to meet Gale. There are several close-ups of razor wire and a sign which reads "No Hostages Will Exit". Their (and our) guide to the prison then says: 'We have three concerns here - safety, safety and safety. The visitation area is entirely secure, we just ask that you don't touch the glass".
It is not only through these opening scenes that the discourse of prison is formed. Threat and fear are consistently communicated through talk. But like the opening prison scenes, this occurs pre-emptively through inmate exchanges around fears of being beaten or raped; while guards and governors are at pains to remind inmates of the dangers of life inside:
Every day someone gets shanked in here. Every day someone gets beaten up in here. We got predators in here, son. We got people who will cut your throat for nothing at all but a packet of cigarette. You mind your business in here, son - do you understand where you are?
(Prison guard to new inmate, Ray in Slam)
I run a prison full of murderers and rapists. It's my job to discipline them anyway I can. Most of these guys have broken every rule in the book. It's my job to teach them respect. People like you better pray to God that people like me doing my job while they're in there. Because one of these days these scumbags are going to be out on the streets and then you better pray you're not walking down the street - you or one of your self-righteous, liberal friends - or one of these good ol' boys decides he's gonna put a bullet in that pretty head of yours.  (Warden Felcher to Prison Board visitor in A Letter From Death Row)
The dramatic and colloquial language borrowed from prison slang - "shanked" (stabbed) and the reduction of the prison population to "murderers and rapists" and "scumbags" serves to situate the prison firmly within a discourse where prison means constant threat of attacks and fear. These warnings to inmates also act as notifications to the audience of what they can expect to see during the film - explicit and graphic violence contextualised by nothing more than its location: a prison. This is concisely expressed in Prison Song, 'you're gonna have to fight - make no mistake about it - this is jail'.

Rape and sexual assault talk is also prevalent in the sample. In several films, new inmates are referred to as "fresh meat" (Life (dir. Ted Demme, 1999); Down Time, Prison Song). In Animal Factory, the older experienced Earl offers advice to new inmate Ron:
Young man - there are a lot of animals in here - sexual deviants, inverts who might try and pressure you....a young man looking the way you do without a great deal of penitentiary experience might find himself compromised: might find himself in need of a friend.
This advice is echoed by long-standing friend, Frank, to the soon-to-be incarcerated Monty in 25th Hour (dir. Spike Lee, 2002):
This is my advice to you - first figure out who's who. Find the man nobody's protecting and beat him until his eyes bleed. Let them think you're a little bit crazy but respectful too. Respectful of the right man - you're a good looking boy Monty - it won't be easy for you.....We do what we do to survive.
25th Hour is undoubtedly the clearest example of the pre-emptive talk of violence and sexual assault in the sample. The narrative traces the last 24 hours of freedom for Monty Brogan, a man about to begin a seven year sentence for drug dealing. One of the key narratives concerns Monty's anxiety over what awaits him when he reaches prison. Hours before he is due to begin his sentence, he confides his trepidation to Frank, and visualises his first night in prison:
The place is overcrowded - they got bunk beds lined up in the gymnasium to handle the overflow. I'm going in a room with 200 other guys.....So picture his. First night, lights out. The guards are moving out of the space, looking back over their shoulders laughing at me. You are miles from home. Door closes - boom: I'm on the floor; I've got some big guy's knee in my back. I'll give it a little go but they'll be too many of them. Somebody takes a pipe out from under a mattress, starts beating me in the face - not to hurt me, just to knock all my teeth out so I can give him head all out and they don't have to worry about me biting,
Without showing any of this, 25th Hour contributes to the discourse of prison constructed in previous cinematic narratives, where jail is synonymous with sexual assault and interpersonal violence.

These initial scenes, and in the case of 25th Hour the entire film, help to fix the meaning of imprisonment, to frame the discourse of incarceration as cruel and sadistic. However, while such scenes could form part of a critique of prison as a criminal justice sanction - the vindictive and pointlessness of custody - the dominant discourse remains entrenched in the violence itself rather than in denunciation of it.

Many of the 'tag lines' - the soundbites which appears on posters and in trailers further exemplify this: 'On The Inside The Rules Are Brutal And The Stakes Are High' (Animal Factory, dir. Steve Buscemi, 2000); 'Their Graduation Present Was A Trip To Paradise, But They Never Thought They Would Land In Hell' (Brokedown Palace, dir. Jonathan Kaplan, 1999; 'All in Line for a Slice of Devil Pie' (Slam, dir. Marc Levin, 1999).


I do not wish to dwell on detailed accounts of the graphic violence portrayed in virtually all the sample, but its nature and treatment by the texts requires some exploration. I have suggested that the discourse of prison as violent and inhumane not only fixes the meaning of prison at an early stage, but importantly that it is rarely used to critique the role of penality in society. The persistent violence in Animal Factory, Down Time, Fortress II: Re-Entry (dir. Geoff Murphy, 1999), Mean Machine, Prison Song, Under Lock and Key (dir. Henri Charr, 1995) and Undisputed (dir. Walter Hill, 2002) reduces 'the reality of violence into spectacle' (Jarvis 2006: 159). Both the explicit nature of the violence, and its scoptophilic treatment by films in the sample are well illustrated by the first scenes of prison in Mean Machine. After three minutes depicting the arrest of ex-England football star Danny Meehan, the radio announces the news while Meehan is shot. Lit by a red light lying in a police cell:
Newsreader: "Meehan will serve his sentence at Longmarsh high security Prison"

cut to close up of violent fight between two inmates sat at a table, others cheering, then back to close up of Meehan in his cell

Newsreader: "Famous for its rehabilitation programme"

cut back to fight, then back to Meehan

Newsreader: "reformed characters"

cut back to fight and inmates exchanging money, all shown on a CCTV screen in a room where prison officers look on. Cut back to Meehan in cell

Newsreader: "and modern conditions"

Cut to bloodied face and vest of inmate
In addition to set piece brutality - sexual attacks in showers (American History X, Animal Factory, Undisputed and spoken of in The Hurricane (dir. Norman Jewison, 1999)); fights in the dining hall (Brokedown Palace, Fortress II: Re-Entry and Sleepers, for example) and exercise yard (Life, Prison Song, Slam) - violence is represented as casual and frequent. Stabbings, scaldings and slashings occur with such regularity that they become normalised, what Baumann has termed 'the production of moral indifference' (cited in Jarvis 2006: 159).

This indifference towards the brutality in, and indeed of, prison - the silence and absence of challenges to the very existence of prison within the discourse - is replaced, substituted and shrouded by incessant depictions of such violence. This construction of the penal estate is tied in with the second key component of the discourse of incarceration in the sample: the reinforcing of prison as an essential element of the criminal justice.



The prison film narrative in the sample is centred round the inmate , usually one recently convicted. Prison is experienced through the eyes of this individual, such as their entry into the penal system discussed previously. Frequently, the new inmate is constructed sympathetically from the outset. This is achieved in one of three ways. Firstly, and most evidently through their innocence and consequent wrongful conviction (Under Lock and Key, A Letter From Death Row, Brokedown Palace, A Map of the World, The Hurricane). Secondly, where the inmate has committed the crime, the film offers mitigating circumstances such as a crime of passion in Undisputed and Tomorrow La Scala; or self defence / provocation in Prison Song and Chicago (dir. Rob Marshall, 2002). Thirdly, where there are no mitigating circumstances and the individual is guilty, the sentence appears unnecessarily harsh, often delivered by an inscrutable judge shot in close up. For example, Cindy Liggett is given the death penalty for aiding and abetting a botched robbery in Last Dance; and after stealing $5 from a post office and being sent to Alcatraz, Henry Young spends three years in solitary confinement after trying to escape in Murder In The First. The marginal nature of innocence, guilt and its underlying morality is further explored by 25th Hour in which the convicted Monty Brogan's two friends are revealed as a crooked Wall Street stockbroker and a guilty college teacher, seduced by one of his students. These events and revelations occur in the danger-red hue of a packed nightclub to the sounds of the hottest new talent DJ Dusk: the equivocal time between night and day, light and shade, good and evil.

This sympathetic portrayal of inmate protagonists once again offers the possibility for prison film narratives to explore the injustice and cruelty of incarceration. Through the eyes of an innocent, harshly treated woman or man, the penal system could be exposed. Although ostensibly this appears to be present in the discourse of prison constructed in the sample, it is achieved through a process of representing the rest of the prison population as dehumanised monsters and animals, and consequently as "other" (Greer and Jewkes 2005; Hall 1997). While the prison hero/ine is afforded character, emotional development and agency, the rump of the jail is mere cardboard cut-out and cliché. Consequently, prison is constructed as necessary, to keep these psychotic deviants caged and incapacitated. Despite its empathetic portrayal of, on occasion, several inmates, the meaning of prison is once again framed around danger and fear, thus underscoring the apparent necessity for prison's very existence.

Echoing the presence of violence in the sample discussed above, the othering of the inmate population occurs both explicitly and implicitly, and again, early in the exposition of the prison. This occurs in voice-over in Sleepers accompanying a panning shot of the exercise yard:
It was not a group of innocent boys at Wilkinson. Most, if not all, the inmates belonged there, and a number of them were riding out their second and third convictions. All were violent offenders. Few seemed sorry for what they had done. And as for rehabilitation - forget it.
In Tomorrow La Scala, prison officer Kevin stands in front of a metal door and addresses the theatre group who are visiting:
We're going to meet the lifers. These are an entirely different breed to the rest of the prison population. They're in here an average of 12 years, some as long as 20 years and all have committed pretty serious crimes. Point of paramount importance - no fraternising, be friendly but don't be their friend.
There are frequent references to, and reduction of the prison populations to "rapists", "murderers", "animals" and so on. Visually, there is an emphasis on physical form, strength and the potential for violence with inmates regularly depicted with shaved heads in tight vests, tattooed, pushing weights (Animal Factory, Down Time, Slam, Prison Song, Undisputed, American History X and A Letter From Death Row). These often wide, panning shots establish the prison population as an homogenous other. This is complemented by individual, superficial cameos of psychotic monsters, who are defined by the brutality of their crimes, such as The Monk in Mean Machine, Sullivan in Just Cause and John Toombes in Lucky Break. Con Air (dir. Simon West, 1997) offers a pertinent example of all of these elements. The protagonist, Cameron Poe, a highly decorated soldier who, having been convicted of manslaughter after protecting his wife in a fight, is put on a transport plane home with an array of long term inmates being transferred to a maximum security prison. In a scene lasting more than nine minutes, each inmate is shown in slow motion as they are escorted onto the plane accompanied by two helicopters and a phalanx of ten armed guards. For each one, the scene cuts to a CCTV screen with computer graphics detailing their crimes, sentence and life history, this is complemented by an explanation:
US Marshall Larkin: 'This one's done it all - kidnapping, robbery, murder, extortion"

Cut to overhead shot of guards. Cut to close up of bus door opening, cut to close up from ground upwards of Cyrus with helicopter in background.

US Marshall Larkin: 'His name is Cyrus Grissom, aka Cyrus The Virus - 39 years old, 25 of them spent in our institutions'

Cut to close up of his feet with chains in slow motion at ground level

US Marshall Larkin: 'But he bettered himself inside - earned two degrees including his Juris Doctorate. He also killed 11 fellow inmates, incited three riots and escaped twice. Likes to brag that he killed more men than cancer. Cyrus is a poster child for the criminally insane. He is a product of the system.'
This last comment, of prison being to blame for the dehumanising process, does offer an alternative reading of the construction of inmates in the discourse. It could be suggested that the portrayal of the prison population in the sample represents precisely the barbaric nature of prison, and thus this depiction of inmates offers a challenge to the existence of the penal estate. However, for such a discourse to exist, one would need to witness the progression of dehumanization, the mechanistic process of imprisonment which turns a free wo/man into a monster (Mason 2003; 2006b). This counter discourse, a reappropriation of meaning (Hall 1997) does occur in Animal Factory. As the name suggests, the film, written by an ex-inmate is concerned with this very process. New inmate Ron Decker is portrayed as increasingly corrupted by prison drawn into the violence and power structure between inmates, until he eventually escapes. Even if one accepts that the backdrop of superficial characterisation and othering of the prison population is used to reinforce Ron's demise - that all inmates have become like they are because of the system - this counter-strategy is conspicuous by its absence the rest of the sample.
The othering of inmates, through fixing them to their crimes, appearance and difference to the prison hero/ine leads to the construction of a pro-prison discourse. With a prison population constructed as predominantly highly dangerous, morally bereft and beyond redemption, the prison becomes the only institution capable of offering a solution. Further, the representation of the heroic, often innocent inmate appears to offer the possibility of a reformist or abolitionist discourse, but like the depiction of violence, this opportunity is used for the reverse. That process is also present in the final element of the discourse I wish to discuss, the support for the death penalty.

The sample analysed contained six films set on death row and although space precludes any detailed exploration of this element of the discourse, I want to offer some brief points about the representation of execution in these films and how this too is located within a discourse of imprisonment which ultimately supports the institutions of prison and the death penalty. Further, that the discourse here is similarly double-edged to that concerning violence and the representation of inmates. Namely, that while it posits abolition of state killing, its construction of meaning centres around the justification of it.

The discourse analysis of these particular films supports Sarat's argument, that despite the attempt to demonstrate that the death penalty is wrong, the discourse in these films is not one of abolition, nor does it challenge its rationale within the criminal justice system (Sarat 2002). This occurs in two ways in these films. The first is to limit the exploration of the use of the death penalty to whether or not the protagonist is deserving of it. This is explored either through a did-they-didn't-they commit the crime (The Chamber, Dead Man Walking, The Green Mile, The Life of David Gale) or an examination of what Sarat calls 'the calculus of desert (sic)' (Sarat 2002: 213), namely whether the death penalty is the appropriate penalty for the crime committed (Last Dance, A Letter From Death Row). Thus, what appears to be a discursive challenge to state killing, through a sympathetic portrayal of the condemned, is fundamentally a narrow representation which avoids broader questions about the use of executions in contemporary societies. Furthermore, the death penalty is used in the majority of these films to enable the redemption of the protagonist: John Coffey's messianic sacrifice in The Green Mile; David Gale's death to prove the fallibility of the justice system in The Life of David Gale; the redemption of Matthew Poncelet, Sam Cayhall and Arlen Bitterbuck in Dead Man Walking, The Chamber and The Green Mile, respectively.

Secondly, and in contrast with the incessant violence of the other prison films, the executions are fixed at a denotative level. Thus the scenes immediately before the moment of death are concerned with process, administration and system. In echoing Sarat's memorable phrase, 'fetishizing the technology of death' (Sarat 2002: 237), straps, buckles and probes are attached, death warrants are read out and switches are flicked. The stark white rooms in The Chamber, Dead Man Walking, Last Dance and The Life of David Gale communicate the sterile, clinical nature of state executions. The absence of the horror of an execution is replaced by ritual, procedure and bureaucracy which once again, locates the discourse of the death penalty within a framework of legitimacy and necessity.


I began by discussing the increased use of prison as a penal sanction in the UK and how many have seen the punitive turn in criminal justice in recent years as a populist measure. Mathiesen is right to highlight the important role the media plays in this process and it is surprising that so little analysis has been undertaken given the invisibility of prison, the consequent reliance on the media for information about it (Levenson 2001; Mason 2003) and the complex meshing between political and media culture and in particular crime and punishment. The US presidential election defeat of Michael Dukakis to George Bush in 1988, for example, has consistently been linked to the case of William Horton, an inmate serving life imprisonment for murder in Massachusetts, where Dukakis was State Governor (Estrich 1998; Jamieson 1992; Loader 2005; Newburn and Jones 2005). Horton was released for a weekend visit during which he stabbed a man and raped the man's girlfriend. Bush's campaign team launched a negative television campaign against Dukakis in two adverts. The first, contrasting Dukakis' support for the furloughing of inmates with Bush's support for the death penalty; the other suggesting that Dukakis offered a revolving door prison policy, fuelling public fears about crime and their perception of a liberal prison policy.

In the last two British elections, the Conservatives ran similar campaigns. In 2001, their election broadcast portrayed inmates being let out of jail early and committing crimes and suggested this had led to at least two rapes (BBC Online, 15th May 2001) and in 2005 they ran a poster campaign with the slogan 'How would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter? Are you thinking what we're thinking?' (Mason 2006a).

The discourse analysis of prison films over the last ten years reveals several discursive practices which bolster the support for prison, and arguably its increased use. The graphic and frequent violence and sexual assaults depicted and/or spoken about serve to fix the meaning of imprisonment to such brutality. However, rather than providing a condemnation of the penal system, the brutality remains scoptophilically represented, revelling in the stabbings, rapes and beatings between, and of, inmates. Inmate violence is part of a representational practice which constructs the prison population as inhuman other. Where the inmate hero/ine is depicted sympathetically through their innocence or harsh treatment, this is played out against a backdrop of a prison populated by psychotic, violent and brutal inmates. Such a construction contributes to a cinematic discourse representing prison as the only effective means of incapacitation and punishment. Finally and similarly, films which appear to offer a challenge to the death penalty side step the abolitionist argument and choose instead to concentration upon the suitability of the punishment and its technological aspects, framed within a discourse of bureaucracy.

While this analysis does not attempt to draw any firm conclusions about how such a cinematic discourse of prison may directly impact upon public opinion, it suggests that cultural constructions of prison are an important component of in populist punitiveness of current criminal justice policy. Prison films, as discursive practices, continue to bolster the existence of the prison industrial complex and remain silent on questions of reform and/or abolition of prison. Meanwhile, administrations such as those in the UK and the US remain wedded to an unjust, cruel, inefficient and dysfunctional penal system and consider punitiveness useful political capital.


Blair, T. (1993) 'Why Crime Is A Socialist Issue ', New Statesman & Society 29: 27-28.

Christie, N. (2000) Crime Control as Industry: Towards Gulags, Western Style? London: Routledge.

Dyer, J. (2000) The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime, Boulder, Cl.: Westview Press.

Estrich, S. (1998) Getting Away With Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greer, C., & Jewkes, Y. (2005) 'Extremes of Otherness: Media Images of Social Exclusion ', Social Justice 32: 20-31.

Hall, S. (1997) 'The Spectacle of the Other', in S. Hall (ed.), Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices. London: Sage.

Hutton, N. (2005) 'Beyond Populist Punitiveness?' Punishment and Society 7: 243-258.

Jacobson, M. (2005) Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration. New York: New York University Press.

Jamieson, K. H. (1992) Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction and Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jarvis, B. (2006) 'The Violence of Images: Inside the Prison TV Drama Oz', in P. Mason (ed.), Captured By The Media: Prison Discourse in Popular Culture. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Johnstone, G. (2000) 'Penal Policy Making: Elitist, Populist or Participatory', Punishment and Society 2: 161-180.

Levenson, J. (2001) 'Inside Information: Prisons and the Media', Criminal Justice Matters: 14-15.

Loader, I. (2005) 'The Affects of Punishment: Emotions, Democracy and Penal Politics', Criminal Justice Matters 60: 12-13.

Mason, P. (2003) 'The Screen Machine: Cinematic Representations of Prisons', in P. Mason (ed.), Criminal Visions: Media Representations of Crime and Justice. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

- (2006a) 'Turn On, Tune In, Slop Out', in P. Mason (ed.), Captured By The Media: Prison Discourse in Popular Culture. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

- (2006b) 'Hollywood's Prison Film: Towards a Discursive Regime of Imprisonment', in T. Serassis, H. Kania & H.-J. Albrecht (eds.), Images of Crime III: Representations of Crime in Politics, Society, Science, the Arts and the Media. Freiburg: Max Planck Institute.

Mathiesen, T. (2000) Prisons on Trial. Winchester: Waterside Press.

- (2001) 'Television, Public Space and Prison Population: A Commentary on Mauer and Simon', Punishment and Society 3: 35-42.

- (2003) Contemporary Penal Policy - A Study in Moral Panics, European Committee on Crime Problems: 22nd Criminological Research Conference. Strasbourg.

Newburn, T., & Jones, T. (2005) 'Symbolic Politics and Penal Populism: The Long Shadow of Willie Horton', Crime Media Culture 1: 72-87.

Parenti, C. (1999) Lockdown America and the Rise of America's Prison Population. New York: Verso.

Pratt, J. (2000) 'Emotive and Ostentatious Punishment: Its Decline and Resurgence in Modern Society', Punishment and Society 2: 417-439.

Roberts, J., Stalans, L., Indermaur, D., & Hough, M. (2002) Penal Populism and Public Opinion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ryan, M. (2006) 'Red Tops, Populists and the Irresistible Rise of the Public Voice', in P. Mason (ed.), Captured By The Media: Prison Discourse in Popular Culture. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Sarat, A. (2002) When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Prison Reform Trust. (2005) Bromley Briefings: Prison Factfile, October 2005 London: Prison Reform Trust

Wacquant, L. (2005) 'The Great Penal Leap Backward: Incarceration in America From Nixon to Clinton', in J. Pratt, D. Brown, M. Brown, S. Hallsworth & W. Morrison (eds.), The New Punitiveness: Trends, Theories and Perspectives. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

- (2006) Deadly Symbiosis: The Rise of Neoliberal Penalty. Cambridge: Polity Press.


1. The one exception in the sample was The Green Mile (dir. Frank Darabont, 1999) in which the central character is Paul Edgecomb, a head prison guard on death row.

2. There is a graphic death in The Green Mile, where a deliberately botched procedure leads to the condemned Eduard Delacroix burning to death in the electric chair. However, Sarat has suggested that this merely suggests that 'there is nothing that decent people should find offensive or gruesome about a "normal" execution' (Sarat 2002: 239).
Film List

Just Cause (1995, dir. Arne Glimcher)

Murder in the First (1995, dir. Marc Rocco)

Under Lock And Key (1995, dir. Henri Charr)

The Chamber (1996, dir. James Foley)

Dead Man Walking (1996, dir. Tim Robbins)

Last Dance (1996, dir. Bruce Beresford)

Sleepers (1996, dir. Barry Levinson)

Con Air (1997, dir. Simon West)

American History X (1998, dir. Tony Kaye)

A Letter From Death Row (1998, dir. Marvin Baker & Bret Michaels)

Slam (1998, Marc Levin)

Brokedown Palace (1999, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)

Fortress 2 (1999, Geoff Murphy)

The Green Mile (1999 , dir. Frank Darabont)

The Hurricane (1999, dir. Norman Jewison)

Life (1999, dir. Ted Demme)

A Map of the World (1999, dir. Scott Elliott)

Animal Factory (2000, dir. Steve Buscemi)

Down Time (2001, dir. Sean Wilson)

Lucky Break (2001, dir. Peter Cattaneo)

Mean Machine (2001, dir. Barry Skolnick)

Prison Song (2001, dir. Darnell Martin)

The 25th Hour (2002, dir. Spike Lee)

Chicago (2002, dir. Rob Marshall)

Tomorrow La Scala! (2002, dir. Francesca Joseph)

Undisputed (2002, Walter Hill)

The Life of David Gale (2003, dir. Alan Parker)

The Longest Yard (2005, dir. Peter Segal)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

From the Inside - Reception

These quotes from former prisoners were originally published on the No More Prison Website

"I had been in institutions all my life and I knew that for self-survival, it paid to be deferential. Peter was new to the whole regime and held his head up high, nonchalantly acknowledging the officer's commands. His resistance was not to last long.

'Oi, you, Paki! You're in detention now,' screamed one of the screws and whacked him around the ear. Another grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground. The other screws closed in and began laying into the poor bastard, who was only a fragile lad. At the same time, they shouted obscenities and racist names at him.......

Peter was probably thinking that this was a tough way to start detention but, in fact, the reception ritual had barely started. We were bundled from one room to another, all the time being told what little scumbags we were and how we were going to be sorted out. In one room I was told to look at a poster of the Firearms Act on the wall. A screw told me to look at it more closely so I leaned nearer the wall.

'Even closer' he ordered, so I pushed my face an inch away from the wall. I'd gone totally boz-eyed and couldn't read a thing but pretended to, all the same. Suddenly, he punched the back of my head, smashing it against the wall and busting my nose. Blood was pouring everywhere and he just looked at me and laughed"

Frank Cook (1998) Hard Cell Page19/20

"Well it was nothing I had ever expected, I didn't know anything about prison. I had never read anything about prison. I was sitting there in total amazement, watching this happen to me. I wasn't actually participating in it. It was total isolation from it. I was in shock, sitting in a room with chairs, in dressing gowns, so called, with your clothes folded up beside you, with women who appeared to know each other and didn't know you."

Judith cited in Mary Eaton, (1993) Women after Prison, Page 23

"I put on this act that I was hard, prison was nothing to me, I wasn't scared and I was going to get through. I went to prison in one of the little cubicle vans, like a van but inside its got lots of cubicles. You were locked in. You sit there in a cage until you get to the prison and file out. Although I'd pulled myself together to a certain extent, it was like a dream, it wasn't like it was really happening, it was like I was taking precautions in case it really was happening. I was chatting away with the other girls like it was a normal thing, an everyday thing to go to prison. And when we were going through reception we had to take all our clothes off and do a twirl in front of the officers. I'd never experienced anything like that before in my life - absolutely stripped naked with nothing, nothing at all, not a ring, nothing. And you had to stick your arms out and twirl. You do it because there's all these people in uniform there and you're frightened that they'll pounce on you if you don't and they probably would if you didn't anyway. I think that woke me up a little bit, after that I was really frightened."

Cara cited in Mary Eaton, (1993) Women after Prison, Page 24

"Reception! A word that can conjure up a variety of functions. The wedding celebration; the formal party; the ovation that may greet the appearance of any public figure. The average person would never connect it with prison. To me, now, it can never mean anything else. Even those who have been inside for ten years or more the first hours of imprisonment are as indelibly printed on their minds as though they had happened only the day before."

Joan Henry (1954) Who lie in Gaol Page 17

"They shone a torch down my gob, made me strip naked, checked my hair for lice and handed me a prison uniform"

Ricky Tomlinson (2003) Ricky Page 134

"the prison officer at reception checked and logged my belongings......I had the first of many strip-searches to come. This was a terror for me. I thought they would poke around inside my private orifices. To my enormous relief they did not. I got looked up and down and turned around, but was allowed to keep the top or bottom half of my body covered at any one time - an embarrassment nonetheless but a lot better than I had feared.

Then I got locked in a room with six fellow prisoners being booked in with me. Five of them were heroin users and the sixth was on remand for stabbing her violent boyfriend when they had both been drunk."

Ruth Wyner (2003) From the inside Page 17

Friday, 24 December 2010

Dear Santa

This was originally published on the No More Prison Website in December 2007

By Alison Henderson

Dedicated to Sandra currently residing in HMP Styal.

Dear Santa,

Me and Mum would always write

dear Santa Claus a note,

but this year Mum won't be around

so this is what I wrote:

Dear Santa if I had one wish

to make all on my own,

it would be to release my Mum

and let her please come home.

Grandma makes the Christmas roast

with lots of food to eat,

but this year in the dining room

there'll be an empty seat.

I know it's far too much to ask

so this year there's no wish,

but Santa could I ask you to

deliver my Mum this.................

Trust me Mum you will get through

don't cry or shed a tear,

we'll celebrate our Christmas day

when you come home next year.

You told us to enjoy ourselves

but I can't promise that,

I'll miss you telling Christmas jokes

wearing your party hat.

I love you Mum with all my heart

be strong and please don't cry,

Christmas day will come and go

and time will soon fly by.

I know you made a big mistake

but what is done is done,

prison's stole our Christmas but....

they'll never steal my Mum.

To Mum With Love.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Abolition and Crime Control - Willem De Haan

Abolition and Crime Control

by Willem De Haan

An abolitionist perspective on crime control might seem like a contradiction in terms not unlike a peace research approach to waging a war. Abolitionism is based on the moral conviction that social life should not and, in tact, cannot he regulated effectively by criminal law and that, therefore, the role of the criminal justice system should be drastically reduced while other ways of dealing with problematic situations, behaviours and events are being developed and put into practice. Abolitionists regard crime primarily as the result of the social order and are convinced that punishment is not the appropriate reaction. Instead a minimum of coercion and interference with the personal lives of those involved and a maximum amount of care and sci vice for all members of society is advocated.

The term 'abolitionism' stands for a social movement, a theoretical perspective and a political strategy. As a social movement committed to the abolition of the prison or even the entire penal system, abolitionism originated in campaigns for prisoners' rights and penal reform. Subsequently, it developed into a critical theory and praxis concerning crime, punishment and penal reform. As a theoretical perspective, abolitionism takes on the two-fold task of providing a radical critique of the criminal justice system while showing that there are other, more rational ways of dealing with crime. As a political strategy, abolitionism is based on an analysis of penal reform and restricted to negative reforms, such as abolishing parts of the prison system, rather than providing concrete alternatives.

The abolitionist perspective will be discussed along the lines of this distinction. 1irt. we will deal with abolitionism as a penal reform movement, then as a theoretical perspective on crime and punishment and, more specifically, the prison. et. a conceptualisation of the notions of crime and punishment will be offered in the form of the concept of redress. At the same time, strategies for penal reform will be examined. Finally, the implications of the abolitionist perspective for crime control will be discussed. In conclusion, it will be argued that what is needed is a wide variety of social responses rather than a uniform state reaction to the problem of crime. In policy terms it is claimed that social policy instead of crime policy is needed in dealing with the social problems and conflicts that are currently singled out as the problem of crime.


Abolitionism emerged as an anti-prison movement when, at the end of the 1960s, a destructuring impulse took hold of thinking about the social control of deviance and crime among other areas (Cohen, 1985). In Western Europe, anti-prison groups aiming at prison abolition were founded in Sweden and Denmark (1967) Finland and Norway (I968), (Great Britain (1970), France (1970), and the Netherlands (1971). Their main objective was to soften the suffering which society inflicts on its prisoners. This implied a change in general thinking concerning punishment, humanization of the various forms of imprisonment in the short run and, m the long rim, the replacement of the prison system by more adequate and up-to-date measures of crime control.

It has been suggested that abolitionism typically emerged in small countries or countries with little crime and 'would never have been "invented" in a count r like the United States of America with its enormous crime rate, violence, ami criminal justice apparatus' (Scheerer, 1986: 18). However, in Canada and the United States family members of (ex-)convicts, church groups and individuals were also engaged in prisoners' support work and actively struggling for prison reform. More specifically, these prison abolitionists in the United States considered their struggle for abolition of prisons to be a historical mission, a continuation and fulfilment of the struggle against slavery waged by their forebears. Imprisonment is seen as a form of blasphemy, as morally objectionable and indefensible and, therefore, to be abolished (Morris, 1976: II). To this aim, a long-term strategy in the form of a three-step 'attrition model' is proposed, consisting of a total tree/e on the planning and building of prisons, excarceration of certain categories of lawbreakers by diverting them from the prison system and decarceration, or the release of as many inmates as possible.

Originating in prison reform movements in the 1960s and 1970s in both Western Europe and North America, abolitionism developed as a new paradigm in (critical) criminology and as an alternative approach to crime control. As academic involvement increased and abolitionism became a theoretical perspective, its focus widened from the prison system to the penal system, thereby engaging in critical analyses of penal discourse and, in particular, the concepts of crime and punishment, penal practices, and the penal or criminal justice system.

As a theoretical perspective abolitionism has a negative and a positive sale. Negatively, abolitionism is deeply rooted in a criticism of the criminal justice system and its 'prison solution' to the problem of crime. Positively, on the basis of this criticism an alternative approach to crime and punishment is offered both in theory and in practice. Thus, the abolitionist approach is essentially reflexive and (de)constructivist. We will first take a look at the negative side of abolitionism which will be followed by a brief expose of its positive side.

From the abolitionist point of view, the criminal justice system's claim to protect people from being victimized by preventing and controlling crime, seems grossly exaggerated. Moreover, the notion of controlling crime by penal intervention is ethically problematic as people are used for the purpose of 'deterrence', by demonstrating power and domination. Punishment is seen as a self-reproducing form of violence. The penal practice of blaming people for their supposed intentions (for being bad and then punishing and degrading them accordingly) is dangerous because the social conditions for recidivism are thus reproduced. Morally degrading and segregating people is especially risky when the logic of exclusion is reinforced along the lines of differences in sex, race, class, culture or religion.

For the abolitionist, current crime policies are irrational in their assumptions that: crime is caused by individuals who for some reason go wrong; that crime is a problem for the state and its criminal justice system to control; and that criminal law and punishment or treatment of individual wrongdoers are appropriate means of crime control (Steinert, 1986). Crime control is based on the fallacy of taking pars pro toto or, as Wilkins (I984) has put it, crime control policy is typically made by reference to the dramatic incident, thereby assuming that all that is necessary is to get the micro-model right in order for the macro-model to follow without further ado. According to Wilkins, we must consider nor only the specific criminal act but also the environment in which it is embedded. It could be added that the same argument holds for punishment and, more specifically, for imprisonment as an alleged solution to the problem of crime.


For abolitionists, the United States is a prime example of a country suffering from the consequences of a punitive obsession. In the course of a 'get tough' policy of crime control, increasing numbers of people are being sent to prison for longer periods of time. As a result, the prison population in the United States has increased dramatically from roughly 350,000 in the 1970s to 850,000 at the end of the 1980s. Almost 80 per cent of the recent increase in prison admissions is accounted for by drugs offenders. By September 1988 about 44 per cent of all federal prisoners were incarcerated for drug law violations. According to the 1989 National Council of Crime and Delinquency Prison Population Forecast the impact of the 'war on drugs' will be yet another increase of the prison population 1989-1994 by over 68 per cent to a total of 1,1 53,000 prisoners among whom people of colour will remain strongly over-represented. With an incarceration rate of 440 prisoners per 100,000 population, the United States will more than consolidate its top rank position in the world. Even with its incarceration rate increasing from about 30 in 1980 to about 50 'n the mid-1990s, the Netherlands will remain at the bottom end of the scale. At the same time, the crime problem in the Netherlands can hardly be considered worse than in the United States.

As in the United States, 'street crime' is also considered a major social problem in the Netherlands. In fact, the first International Crime Survey (van Dijk et al., 1990) showed that overall victimization rates 1983-1988 in the United States and the Netherlands were higher than in any other country in the survey. However, there were considerable differences both in the seriousness of the crime problem and the effectiveness of its control. Whereas overall victimisation rates in the Netherlands and the United States were similarly high, in the Dutch case this was strongly influenced by the extraordinarily high prevalence of bicycle theft, whereas victimisation rates for homicide, robbery and (sexual) assault were particularly high in the United States.

If anything, this proves that the relationship between crime and crime control by imprisonment is much more complex than proponents of the prison solution seem to assume. In terms of protection the 'get tough' approach to crime control has little to offer, and the 'war on drugs' can never be won but has serious repercussions.

Taken together, the prison system is counter-productive, difficult to control, and itself a major social problem. Therefore, abolitionists have given up entirely on the idea that the criminal justice system has anything to offer m terms of protection. They are also pessimistic about the criminal law's potential for conflict resolution. It is felt that the present penal system is making things worse, not better.

In the course of the 'war against drugs' which is currently being waged in the United States and many other countries around the world, the use ol ethically problematic techniques for apprehending suspects is being condoned if not required. As a result various forms of organisational complicity undermine the already waning legitimacy of the criminal justice system even further. According to Roshier (1989), the 'war against drugs' must be seen as a forced attempt to reach efficiency in the held of law enforcement or, at least, the appearance of it by using purely technical or even military means of surveillance and policing. It is the criminal justice system that defines, selects, documents and disposes of crime. As a result, legal definitions of suspicion, criminal offence etc., are being stretched. Thus, the criminal justice system itself increasingly specifies both the nature of the crime problem and what is to be done about it (Roshier, I989: I28).

Thus, the criminal justice system is part of the crime problem rather than its solution. Not only does it tail to work in terms of its own stated goals and not only are the negative consequences of the infliction of suffering by the state threatening to get out of hand but, more importantly, it is based on a fundamentally flawed way of understanding. Therefore, there is no point in trying to make the criminal justice system more effective or more just. The abolitionist critique of the criminal justice system and its approach to crime control may be summarised by saying that it this is the solution, what is the problem? Or, put differently, crime as a social problem and object of social analysis needs to be rethought.

The current approach to crime control, the definition of crime and the justification of punishment is 'systemic', that is, based on an instrumentalist point of view and confined within the limits of the criminal justice system. From an abolitionist point of view, these issues require a fundamental reconceptualization in a broader social context. This is where the alternative, positive side of abolitionism starts from. Abolitionists argue that there is no such thing as 'crime'. In fact, 'the very form of criminal law, with its conception of "crime" (not just the contents of what is at a given time and place defined into that category, but the category itself) and the ideas on what is to be done about it, are historical "inventions'" (Steinert, ll'S6: 26).

'Crime' is a social construction, to be analysed as a myth of everyday life (Hess, 1986). As a myth, crime serves to maintain political power relations and lends legitimacy to the expansion of the crime control apparatus and the intensification of surveillance and control. It justifies inequality and relative deprivation. Public attention is distracted from more serious problems and injustices. Thus, the bigger the social problems are, the greater the need for the crime myth (Hess, 1986: 24-5).

However, not only should the concept of crime be discarded (Hulsman, 1986), but we need to get rid of the theories of crime as well. As Quensel (1987) has pointed out, theories about 'crime' acquire their plausibility largely by virtue of their building on and, at the same time, reinforcing an already-present 'deep structure'. One element of this 'deep structure' is the notion that 'crime' is inherently dangerous and wicked; another is that crime control is a 'value-inspired' call for action against that evil (p. 129).

Abolitionists argue that the crucial problem is not explaining but rather understanding crime as a social event. Thus, what we need is not a better theory of crime, hut a more powerful critique of crime. This is not to deny that there are all sorts of unfortunate events, more or less serious troubles or conflicts which can result in suffering, harm, or damage to a greater or lesser degree. These troubles are to he taken seriously, of course, but not as 'crimes' and, in any case, they should not be dealt with by means of criminal law. When we fully appreciate the complexity of a 'crime' as a socially constructed phenomenon any simplified reaction to crime in the form of punishment becomes problematic.

Spector (1981) has argued that when a person offends, disturbs, or injures other people, various forms of social disapproval exist to remedy the situation. The matter may be treated as a disease, a sin, or, indeed, as a crime. However, other responses are also feasible, like considering the case as a private conflict between the offender and the victim or defining the situation in an administrative way and responding, for example by denial of a licence, permit, benefit or compensation. Our images, language, categories, knowledge, beliefs and fears of troublemakers are subject to constant changes. Nevertheless, crime continues to occupy a central place in our thinking about troublesome people ( I ^S I: I S4). Spector suggests that, perhaps, 'we pay too much attention to crime because the disciplines that study trouble and disapprove - sociology and criminology - were born precisely in the era when crime was at its zenith? (Quenscl, 1987; Spector, 1981).

The concept of 'crime' figures prominently in common sense and has definite effects on it. By focusing public attention on a definite class of events, these 'crimes' can then be almost automatically seen as meriting punitive control. 'Punishment' is thereby regarded as the obvious and proper reaction to 'crime'.


Abolitionists do not share the current belief in the criminal law's capacity for crime control. They radically deny the utility of punishment and claim that there can be no valid justification for it, particularly since other options are available for law enforcement. They discard criminal justice as an absurd idea. It is ridiculous to claim that one pain can or, indeed, ought to be compensated by another state-inflicted one. According to them, the 'prison solution' affects the moral quality of life in society at large. Therefore, the criminal justice perspective needs to be replaced by an orientation towards all avoidance of harm and pain (Steinert, 1986: 25). Christie (1982), particularly, has attacked the traditional justifications for punishment. He criticizes deterrence theory for its sloppy definitions of concepts, its immunity to challenge, and for the fact that it gives the routine process of punishment a false legitimacy in an epoch where the infliction of pain might otherwise have appeared problematic. The neo-classicism of the justice model is also criticized: punishment is justified and objectified, the criminal is blamed, the victim is ignored, a broad conception of justice is lacking, and a 'hidden message' is transmitted which denies legitimacy to a whole series of alternatives which should, in fact, be taken into consideration. However, Christie not only criticizes the 'supposed justifications' for punishment, but also claims a decidedly moral position with regard to punishment, which is the intentional infliction of pain which he calls 'moral rigorism'. He deliberately co-opts the terms 'moralism' and 'rigorism' associated primarily with protagonists of 'law and order' and more severe penal sanctions. His 'rigorist' position, however, is that there is no reason to believe that the recent level of pain infliction is the right or natural one and that there is no other defensible position than to strive for a reduction of man-inflicted pain on earth. Since punishment is defined as pain, limiting pain means an automatic reduction of punishment.

More recently, Christie and Mathiesen have both suggested that the expansion of the prison system involves general ethical and political questions such as what could be the effects of all the punishments taken together? What would constitute an acceptable level of punishment in society? What would be the right prison population within a country? 1 low should we treat fellow human beings? And. last but not least, how do we want to meet the crime problem (Christie, 1986; Mathiesen, 1986)?

However, in common-sense and legal discourse alike, 'crime' and 'punishment' continue to be seen 'as independent species - without reference to their sameness or how continuity of both depends on the character ot dominating institutions' (Kennedy, 1974: 107). It should be kept in mind, however, that crime comprises but one of several kinds of all norm violations, that punishment is but one of many kinds of reprisals against such violations, that criteria for separating them refer to phenomena external to actual behaviours classed by legal procedure as crime versus punishment, and that even within the criminal law itself, the criteria by which crime is identified procedural!)- apply with equal validity to punishment (Kennedy. I974: 108).

Criminology needs to rid itself of those theories of punishment which assume there are universal qualities in forms of punishment or assume a straightforward connection between crime and punishment. Given the perseverance of this conventional notion of 'punishment' as essentially a 'good' against an 'evil', any effort at changing common-sense notions of 'crime' and 'crime control' requires a reconceptualization of both concepts: 'crime' and 'punishment'.

We need to concern ourselves with the interrelationship and combined effects of crime and punishment. Crime and punishment are closely related with 'social negativity' (Baratta, 1986), destructive developments within contemporary society, in particular, as they affect its already most vulnerable members. In order to formulate a convincing politics of penal reform, crime and punishment should not be seen as action and reaction, but as spiralling cycles of harm (Pepinsky, 1986).

Elsewhere, I have introduced the concept of 'redress' as an alternative to both the concepts of 'punishment' and 'crime' (de Haan, 1990). This seemingly 'obsolete' concept carries an elaborate set of different meanings. The Concise Oxford Dictionary offers a wide variety of meanings for 'redress': for instance, to put right or in good order again, to remedy or remove trouble of any kind, to set right, repair, rectify something suffered or complained of like a wrong, to correct, amend, reform or do away with a bad or faulty state of things, to repair an action, to atone a misdeed or offence, to save, deliver from misery, to restore or bring back a person to a proper state, to happiness or prosperity, to the right course, to set a person right by obtaining or (more rarely) giving satisfaction or compensation for the wrong or loss sustained, teaching, instructing and redressing the erroneous by reason (Sixth Edition. 1976: 937).

To claim redress is merely to assert that an undesirable event has taken place and that something needs to be done about it. It carries no implications concerning what sort of reaction would be appropriate; nor does it define reflexively the nature of the initial event. Since claiming redress invites an open discussion about how an unfortunate event should be viewed and what the appropriate response ought to be, it can be viewed as a rational response par excellence. It puts forth the claim for a procedure rather than for a specific result. Punitive claims already implied in defining an event as a 'crime' are opened up to rational debate. Thus, to advocate 'redress' is to call for 'real dialogue' (Christie, 1982). Christie has suggested that social systems be constructed in ways that 'crimes' are more easily seen as expressions of conflicting interests, therein- becoming a starting-point for a 'real dialogue' (1982: 11).

The conceptual innovation suggested here offers a perspective for a politics of redress, aimed at the construction and implementation of procedures along the lines of an ethic of practical discourse. As we have seen, the handling of normative conflicts by rational discourse presupposes other procedures than the present criminal ones. In order to increase chances for participation for those involved, procedures based on the rules and preconditions of rational discourse would, therefore, need to be established outside the realm of criminal law; that is in civil law or even in the life world itself. Instead of the panacea which the criminal justice system pretends to provide for problems of crime control, abolitionism seeks to remedy social problems, conflicts, or troubles within the context of the real world, taking seriously the experiences of those directly involved and taking into account too the diversity which is inherent [in] the social world. The aim of a politics of redress would be to 'arrange it so that the conflict settling mechanisms themselves, through their organization reflect the type of society we should like to see reflected and help this type of society come into being' (Christie, 1982: 1 13). Social problems °r conflicts might be absorbed in order to use them as valuable aids to the social integration of real life and the prevention of social harm.

Abolitionism assumes that social problems or conflicts are unavoidable as they are inherent to social life as such. Therefore, they will have to be dealt with in one way or another. Rather than delegating them to professional specialists, however, they should be dealt with under conditions of mutuality and solidarity. These very conditions will have to be created by social and political action.

The urgent question that remains, of course, is how this might be done. To begin with, no single solution to the problem should be expected. Taking into account the diversity of relevant social phenomena requires the development of a wide variety of forms of social regulation which are not located in or defined by the state but operate (semi-)autonomously as alternative, progressive and emancipatory forms of dispute settlement and conflict resolution.

In reaction to the deeply felt dissatisfaction with the present penal system and, more generally, with the legal system, we see an increasing interest in 'autonomous' forms of conflict resolution and dispute settlement. Other "styles of social control' (Black, 1976: 4-5) are seen as attractive, promising to provide the parties involved with more chances for participation in settling a dispute or problem. The aim is compensation rather than retaliation; reconciliation rather than blame allocation. To this end, the criminal justice system needs to be decentralised and neighbourhood courts established as a complement or substitute.

The development of alternative procedures for conflict resolution and dispute settlement faces some rather ticklish questions which have proved intractable in current debates, questions concerning voluntarism versus determinism, 'accountability', 'responsibility' and 'guilt', that is, the moral evaluation of behaviour, the fair allocation of blame and the proper dissemination ot consequences. Emphasis on participatory processes of definition or the contcxtuality of conflicts may be welcome, but it can also lead to problematic outcomes. Among the wide variety of reactions the notion of redress entails there might be sanctions which need to be subjected to legal principles and restraints. For these reasons, legal form is still required to ensure fairness. Just as we need sociological imagination to ensure an open discussion, we need legal imagination to be able to put an end to potentially endless debates as well as allow (or the possibility of appeal.

However, by allowing for more complexity in the interpretation of social behaviour, social situations and events, the simplistic image' of human beings and their activities currently employed in criminal law and reproduced m criminal justice could be avoided. Through contcxtualisation, the dichotomised character of criminal justice (Christie, 1986: 96) could be replaced with a continuum. Participants would be urged to confront and grapple with complexities around notions of human 'agency', 'intentionahty', 'responsibility' and 'guilt' rather than reducing them to manageable proportions by applying the binary logic of criminal law. By dropping the simplistic dichotomies of the criminal law and allowing for differential meanings, justice might finally be done to the complexity of human actions and social events. Such a discourse would feature a concept of 'social responsibility' allowing for interpretations which primarily blame social systems rather than individuals (Christie, 1986: 97).

Initially, a political strategy had been developed on the bases of the experiences of prison reform groups in their political struggle for penal and social reform. This 'politics of abolition' (Mathiesen, 1974, 1986) consistently refuses to offer 'positive alternatives or solutions. It restricts itself to advancing open-ended, 'unfinished?, 'negative' reforms, such as abolishing parts of the prison system. This requires that the}1 be conceptualized in terms alien to current criminal justice discourse.

More recently, positive alternatives to punishment are also being considered. Various proposals have been made by abolitionists and others to decentralize or even completely dismantle the present penal system in order to create forms of 'informal justice' as an addition to or replacement of the present criminal justice system.

Their implementation also raises many questions, however, concerning allegations about widening the net of social control and, at the same time, thinning the mesh, extending and blurring the boundaries between formal penal intervention and other, informal forms of social control, thereby masking the coercive character of alternative interventions (Abel, 1982: Cohen, 1985).

Fundamental reform of the penal system requires not only imaginative alternatives but, at the same time, a radical change in the power structure. Thus a 'politics of abolition' aims at a negative strategy for changing the politics of punishment by abolishing not only the criminal justice system but also the repressive capitalist system part by part or step by step (Mathiescn, 1986).

A fundamental reform of the penal system presupposes not only a radical change of the existing power structure hut also of the dominant culture. However, currently there is no appropriate social agency for any radical reform of the politics of punishment. There seems no immediate social basis upon which a progressive, let alone an abolitionist, strategy of crime control might be spontaneously constructed (Matthews, 1987: 389). Abolitionists tend to refer to the re-emergence of the subcultures of the new social movements with their own infrastructure of interaction and communication and their new ethics of solidarity, social responsibility, and care (Stcinert, I986: 28-9; see also Christie, 1982: 7.S-80). As Harris argues, the inadequacy of virtually all existing reform proposals lies in the failure to step outside the traditional and dominant ways of framing the issues. To explore alternative visions of justice we need to consider 'philosophies, paradigms, or models that transcend not only conventional criminological and political lines, hut also natural and cultural boundaries and other limiting habits of the mind' (Harris. 1987: 11). According to Harris a wide range of visions ot a better world and a better future offer a rich resource for a fundamental rethinking of our approach to crime and justice. The new social movements, in particular the women's movement, have pointed out fundamental weaknesses or biases in criminology's background assumptions, conceptual frameworks, methodology and tacit morality (Gelsthorpe and Morris, I990). However, the relationship between abolitionism and, for example, feminism is not without stress (van Swaaningen, 1989).


Abolitionism argues for a structural approach to the prevention of 'social negativity', or redressing problematic situations by taking social problems, conflicts and troubles seriously but not as 'crime'. Therefore, abolitionism argues for social policy rather than crime control policy. Examples of this structural approach would be dealing vith drug problems in terms of mental health, with violence in terms of social Pathology, and with property crime in terms of economy.

Abolitionism calls for decriminalization, depcnalization, destigmatization, decentralization and deprofessionalization, as well as the establishment of other, informal, participatory, (semi-)autonomous ways of dealing with social problems.

Problematic events may just as well be defined as social troubles, problems or conflicts due to negligence or caused by 'accident' rather than by purpose or criminal intent. What is needed is a wide variety of possible responses without a priori assuming criminal intent and responsibility.

As we have seen, prison abolition, let alone penal abolition, requires an imaginative rethinking of possible ways of handling problematic situations as social problems, conflicts, troubles, accidents etc., as well as reconceptualizing punishment and developing new ways of managing 'deviance' on the basis of, at least partial, suspension of the logic of guilt and punishment. Without fixation on individual guilt, responsibility and punishment, 'crimes' would appear as 'conflicts', 'accidents' or 'problematic events' to be dealt with in a more reasonable and caring way by using forms of conflict management which are not exclusively geared towards individuals and confined to the limitations of criminal law in the books as well as in action (Steinert, 1986: 30). Therefore, abolitionists focus instead on extra-legal, autonomous ways for dealing with social problems and conflicts involving offences. The abolitionist challenge to abolish the present prison system now is to construct more participatory, popular or socialist forms of penality ((Garland and Young, 1983).

This way of looking at crime and crime control is, of course, controversial. The abolitionist perspective is sometimes critized for being naive and idealistic. In practice, however, the abolitionist approach turns out to be realistic in that social problems and conflicts are seen as inherent to social life. Since it is illusory that the criminal justice system can protect us effectively against such unfortunate events, it seems more reasonable to deal with troubles pragmatically rather than by approaching them in terms of guilt and punishment. Effectively to prevent and control unacceptable situations and behaviours requires a variety of social responses, one and only one of which is the criminal justice system. Its interventions are more of symbolic importance than ot practical value. With some social, technical and organizational imagination 'crime' could be coped with in ways much more caring for those immediately involved. A variety ot procedures could be established and institutionalized where social problems or conflicts, problematic events or behaviours could be dealt with through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, at intermediate levels. For dealing with the most common or garden varieties of crime, which is in any case the vast bulk ot all recorded criminality, criminal prosecutions are simply redundant.

Certainly for those who are most directly concerned there is little or no benefit. Also in such cases as state or corporate crime where a kill abolitionist agenda of dispute settlement - like the criminal justice approach - has profound limitations, it does make sense to look for more workable alternatives to the criminal justice system's mechanisms of apprehension, judgment and punishment. Most of these problems could be dealt with by means of economic, administrative, environmental, health or labour law, rather than by criminal law. Even in cases where a person has become an unacceptable burden to his or her relatives or community, imprisonment could be avoided. Agreements might be reached or orders might be given about temporary or permanent limitations in access to certain people, places or situations. The problems of the really bad and the really mad remain. In these relatively few cases and by way of last resort it might be unavoidable to deprive someone of their liberty, at least for the time being. This exceptional decision should be simply in order to incapacitate and be carried out in a humane way, that is as a morally problematic decision in a dilemma. However, even in these cases it would make sense to look for more just and humane alternatives based on mutual aid, good neighbourliness and real community rather than continue to rely on the solutions of bureaucracies, professionals and the centralized state. Criticism of the inhumanity and irrationality of the prison solution is as valid today as it was twenty or seventy years ago. Therefore, Cohen suggests that three interrelated strategies be followed: first, cultivating an experimental and inductive attitude to the actual historical record of alternatives, innovations and experiments; secondly, being sensitive, not just to failures, co-options and con-tricks, but to success stories - the criterion for success should be, and can be nothing other than, an approximation to preferred values; and thirdly, escaping the clutches of criminology (radical or realistic) by expanding the subject of social control way beyond the scope of the criminal justice system (for example, to systems of informal justice, Utopian communes and experiments in self-help) (Cohen, I 988: 131).

In countries with an elaborate welfare system like the Scandinavian countries or the Netherlands, these strategies may seem more reasonable given that their crime problem is less dramatic and, traditionally, their crime control policy is already more cautions. In the context of a relatively mild penal climate with a pragmatic and reductionist penal policy already being implemented, even penal abolition may seem realistic as a long-term goal. However, in those countries where prison populations are enormous and penal institutions are simply 'warehousing' people in order to incapacitate them from reoffendmg, prison abolition is more acute. When in the early 1970s several commissions and task forces concluded that the American prison system is beyond reform and, therefore, other ways of dealing with criminal offenders need to be developed, the prison population was about one-third of the current one. These criticisms hold true even more under the present conditions of overcrowding in the prisons. Prisons are places where a lot more harm is done than is necessary or legitimate. Moreover, these institutions contribute to a further brutal-ization of social conditions. Hven in the United States where average prison sentences are much longer than tor example in the Netherlands, 99 per cent of the prison population will sooner or later hit the streets again. Therefore, there is a definite need not only tor prison reform but also for penal reform. Current crime control policy boils down to doing more of the same. In the long run, however, the resulting spiral of harm needs to be reversed in a downward direction. This can only be achieved by doing more rather than less, albeit not more of the same but more of what generally might be called care.