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.


  1. Sorry, I was wondering whether this was your own work or an excerpt of De Haans own work, and if so which?
    Many thanks