The Punishment Imperative
Connection to a devotional community serves other immediate needs. Confinement in prison tends to erode individual power, create a climate of deprivation, and leave people vulnerable. For example, Dubler hints that the chapel provides a way for some people to smuggle in contraband. Others have opportunities not available outside the chapel, including playing in bands, singing in choirs, and participating in special mealtime rituals. More likely, a new ghost took up occupancy during our age of mass incarceration.
- Todd Clear | Wisconsin Public Radio.
- Natasha Frost!
- Human Consciousness of God in the Book of Job: A Theological and Psychological Commentary.
Perhaps prison religion is not what it appears. After all, the prison chapel is one of the few non-punitive state-sanctioned and supported resources. The chaplains work for the same Pennsylvania Department of Corrections as the correctional officers. Dubler observes some younger incarcerated people in Graterford ridiculing the religious devotion of long-term prisoners, seeing the older men as in possession of an institutionalized mindset that accommodates the criminal justice system. There is no simple way to determine whether the chapel serves as a ruse for the state or prisoners.
Dubler works around the issue by noting that the contradictory and sometimes self-interested practice of religion in Graterford mirrors congregations on the outside. The exponential growth in prison populations over the last four decades leaves at least as much to faith. Because there is no evidence to support arguments that incarceration reduces crime—and some evidence that it creates less safe communities—Clear and Frost point instead to the war on drugs as the driver of the punishment imperative.
They insist that mass incarceration will ebb once it no longer serves the social, political, and economic interests of state and federal governments. They go so far as to offer what they admit is an optimistic and premature hypothesis that the punishment imperative is nearing its end. They cite the pattern of prison closures over the last several years, the rollback of sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and the decriminalization of marijuana in several states as evidence that the end is near.
They note that these incremental strategies will not end over-incarceration. The only way to reduce the prison population is to unwind the laundry list of laws and sentencing guidelines that drive mass incarceration. But like a doomsday evangelist pushing the date back after a missed rapture, evidence of the failure of punitive policies has not yet resulted in their abandonment. You are commenting using your WordPress.
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What happened was a deliberate, if haphazardly conceived, agenda of more and more punishment—a Punishment Imperative. Precisely because this was a policy agenda, rather than some sort of social circumstance, we are able to analyze this time in American history using the grand social experiment framework. In the remainder of this chapter we describe what we think of as the end of the great penal experiment that took place between and and outline the prospects for something new to emerge—something with far less emphasis on prisons and much more emphasis on a conglomerate of correctional approaches.
We argue that we have reached an era in which a new milieu is fueling the prison populations and penal system. Although we offer a fuller version of what we think that new model might look like in our concluding chapter, the short version would probably read something like this:. Justice reinvestment, the emerging model we advocate for in the concluding chapter, offers a new framework for the penal system to approach its work. To the extent that justice reinvestment—or something like it—becomes dominant, it signals a new era: the end, if slow and vacillating, to the grand penal experiment.
We do not have to look far to see strong evidence that a new conversation has taken hold in penal policy circles. As we write, evidence mounts daily that the experiment is grinding to a halt. As of August , at least thirteen states—one-fourth of the states—have closed or plan to close a prison. Michigan has already closed twenty-two prisons, and even the notoriously punitive state of Texas plans to close a year-old prison. New York State, after a series of reforms that roll back the reach of the incredibly harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws, now plans to close seven prisons.
This is a trend that, in many ways, is stronger in traditionally very conservative states than in what most people think of as more liberal states.
Great examples are provided by the states of Mississippi and Georgia. Between and , Mississippi opened seven new prisons. Then the recession hit, and from the governor on down, people knew something needed to be done. Plans were developed to reduce the prison population immediately with a goal of one-fifth reduction by The dominant driver is, of course, the current fiscal crisis.
But, so far, the plan is politically popular, and the current cuts have been accomplished with both a drop in recidivism rates and no increase in crime rates. Georgia has a similar story of unprecedented and ultimately unsustainable correctional growth. The state spent a staggering billion dollars a year on corrections, much of which was spent paying for the incarceration of nonviolent offenders who account for close to 60 percent of the state prison population. To make matters worse, prison population projections based on the criminal justice policies in place predicted growth in the next five years that would require several hundred million dollars more in taxpayer dollars.
A Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians convened to study the factors driving prison growth concluded that very little of the growth could be explained by crime—almost all of the growth was explained by the series of policies that dictated who would go to prison increasingly, nonviolent offenders and how long they would stay longer than they had previously.
Moreover, recidivism rates among released offenders had not changed, and, while the substantial growth in incarceration might have enhanced public safety, alternatives to the most expensive form of correctional control for nonviolent offenders could potentially offer equal or greater public-safety returns at a substantial cost savings. The number of states actively working to either close prisons or introduce legislation to ultimately reduce prison populations is unprecedented—and most of this activity has taken place very recently, since In the high days of the grand penal experiment, there were also recessions, with the usual clarion call for fiscally responsible correctional practices.
But they never affected the prison growth trajectory much. Moreover, the seismic shifts in the way punishment is now thought of are not simply housed in fiscal realities. But it is not simply a fiscal reform position. Arguing that the correctional system has grown way too big and way too onerous, it uses an appeal to fiscal realities to support its recommendations but also appeals to evidence, to common sense, and to ethical thinking. The Right on Crime Statement of Principles, written as it was by some of the most conservative political thinkers in the country, is evidence that the center of energy in the prison reform has moved away from the Punishment Imperative.
Given their exorbitant costs, prisons and prison spending have been identified as priority issues, with Right on Crime offering a number of conservative solutions to the problem of mass incarceration, several of which are expressly aimed at reducing prison populations. The Punishment Imperative has lost energy. So while the current fiscal crisis is a motivating factor for the down- sizing of the correctional system, it is not by itself the cause. The deescalation of punishment is possible mainly because the sentiment of punitiveness has undergone an important shift.
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Todd Clear | Wisconsin Public Radio
Eminent criminologists make a compelling case for why America's 40 year embrace of the punitive spirit has been morally bankrupt and endangered public safety. Clear and Natasha A. Reprinted by arrangement with New York University Press. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher.
Related The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America
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