State Funded Abuse – Punishments and Rewards in Prison

Abuse – well, corporal punishment – well, punishment – actually causes misbehaviour in children and crime and violence in adults, rather than curing these things. With children, it’s not news, I think that the exercise of punishment actually models and ingrains the very problem behaviour that we employ it to solve. Ironic, which means it would be funny if it weren’t horrible and tragic.

But in adulthood, in the justice system, this causality can be far more direct. The ways in which punishment promotes crime and violence in prison situations requires no knowledge of or belief in psychology at all.

When a person is convicted of a crime and incarcerated, there has long been a tradition and an assumption that the convict has lost his human rights, that if prisons are scary and dangerous places, well, that is the deterrent. That is a reason not to break the law, and we may say that the criminal has done it to himself. These days, a convict’s human rights are gaining some power, at least the officials, the prison administration and employees, are not supposed to abuse convicts any more than is required to enforce the removal of one human right, namely the obvious one, the convicted person’s freedom. The guards are not supposed to abuse the prisoners directly: no beatings, no sexual abuse – lately the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners is a controversy, whether or not the force and restraint required to stop a person’s slow suicide is or isn’t a violation of his human rights. This debate (not the situation alluded to) marks a huge improvement in the consideration of the rights of prisoners. There is room for improvement to be sure, but it’s a relatively large step, considering the condition of prisoners in history.

Having said that . . .

I think we need to turn our attention to the ability of prisoners to violate each other’s rights.

If a prisoner has rights, if we (society, the criminal justice system and its agents, the taxpayers who fund it), if we are not allowed to abuse these convicted persons, how is it that we are willing and able to lock them up with a lot of the very sorts of people who are likely to (and proven to) abuse them?

Prisons are scary places, full of dangerous, scary people, and in our attempt to control crime and abuse, we throw them all in there together. I think we have all given some thought to the minor criminal thrown in among the wolves, and the first thing I’ve already mentioned: don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. I don’t really approve, but that’s not where I’m going with this. For now, regarding that, I’ll say, fair enough. A second point that may be viewed in favour of the forced intermingling of violent criminals with the less violent ones would be that there are tiers, different levels of prisons, minimum, medium and maximum security institutions. I’ll deal with the second point first.

Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion, right? Many criminals that would be perfectly suited for MaxSec locations spend time in all the other levels of the prison network. Many a murderous, gangland soldier spends time in lighter prisons than they might, they get convicted of crimes that are not necessarily their worst acts, possession of stolen goods, drug dealing, any number of things. Because of this, really bad guys can be encountered anywhere in the prison system. All prisons are scary and dangerous.

For the first point, again, we’ve sort of made our peace with the idea that we send not-so-bad guys to prison with very bad ones, that’s the deterrent, it’s prison, not Disneyland. It’s not supposed to be fun. But now we’re getting to it. In prison, and in life, there are winners and losers. The smartest, the toughest, the biggest, baddest, most dangerous men in prison can and often do, dominate and victimize the weaker ones. The well connected ones, the organized gangsters recruit and make slaves and/or soldiers of the more vulnerable . . . may I guess what you’re thinking? But that may not be it. Here’s my problem:

Are we not rewarding the most dangerous criminals?

Are we not creating a situation where the worst and most dangerous offenders are being given a convenient supply of victims to exploit, to rape, rob and enslave? In other words, are we not encouraging the very same patterns of abuse and victimization in the most powerful criminals in our attempt to discourage that very behaviour in the less dangerous ones? Wait a second, this sounds like sociology, ‘what are we incentivising,’ that’s not it either. It’s worse than that. The worst of it is not what we’re doing, it’s that we’re doing it.

What are we doing, exactly?

Collecting the worst, scariest people we can find, and . . . providing victims for them. We, the people, we, society, we the voter and the government, for God’s sake – are pimping for the most dangerous and uncaring people our nations have produced, and paying for it with public funds.

That is what we are doing.

Victimization is antithetical to rehabilitation. We need to keep our prisoners safe if we ever want to help any of them. I’m saying individual rooms, and contact among them only by mutual consent. I’m saying money, to be sure. But abuse causes crime, and what we are doing now isn’t working; the billions we are spending now are not only wasted, but actually exacerbating the problems.

It’ll be cheaper in the long haul.

7 thoughts on “State Funded Abuse – Punishments and Rewards in Prison

    • neighsayer June 10, 2014 / 8:29 pm

      Thanks, Cate! I really had trouble articulating that. I don’t think it could have been a word shorter, and I still worry that I never got the point out.


  1. Rebekah June 11, 2014 / 5:16 am

    Don’t worry, you got the point across, at least to me, someone who understands the logic behind your thinkings and agrees whole heartedly. It might be difficult for someone to follow, who has been taught that prision and punishment are good thier entire life. You make many assumptions, that the reader is thinking something? I was not sure what you expected me to be thinking. You might could clean that up a bit by stating what it is you expact us to be thinking. The post was not too long. You have a strong opinion and present it well.

    My sister would love your blog. I’ll have to send her a link.

    I am interested to know how you feel about ”time-out” the way the super nanny Jo Frost does it. You can find video examples on You-Tube. Would you even concider it punishment? Or minor constriction to prevent further harm?


    • neighsayer June 11, 2014 / 6:52 am

      OK, I’ll fix that bit – it was only that I imagined the reader thought I was still talking about sending weaker criminals into prison with stronger ones and that they’d made their choices one more time. When really, my concern is that we’re providing the stronger convicts with victims, more form the POV of how we are enabling the more dangerous ones.

      Timeouts – absolutely punishment, in the form of withdrawal of love, taking away what the kid wants most – you. But that point has been made by many others, my point is different: any non-corporal punishment often causes a fight, which then too often is physical, so in my view, there are no punishments that aren’t backed up by force and/or violence.

      Thanks for commenting, I was afraid no-one would on this one.


    • neighsayer June 12, 2014 / 6:00 pm

      This post is my attempt to say that we’d be better off if we also kept prisoners safe from each other as well. less abused prisoners have a better chance of making self-improvements.
      I know no-one cares that some prisoners are abused, but you’d think by the same principle, that the idea of the dominant prisoners carrying on their crimes and getting their power and enjoyment from it would outrage people!

      I’ll try to get to the timeout videos . . .


      • Rebekah June 13, 2014 / 5:11 am

        I agree with you. I don’t advocate anyone being harmed no matter what they have done. Keep them out of society to keep others safe but don’t let them be harmed. ”Two wrongs don’t make a right.” as my mother always said.

        And thank you. I would love to hear your opiniion on the topic, ecspecially because you have already raised two girls.


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