The current appliance of the power to punish can be considered to be

The current appliance of the power to punish can be

This preview shows page 145 - 148 out of 149 pages.

The current appliance of the power to punish can be considered to be illegitimate when it is claimed to create too many inherent infringe- ments of human rights, when dehumanising penal regimes and brutal- isation are considered to be endemic to operational practice, when it PENOLOGY 156 Scott(Penology)-3644-Part-II-b.qxd 10/15/2007 7:10 PM Page 156
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inevitably exceeds certain tolerable pain thresholds, or when it is believed to be entirely misapplied or that it inappropriately punishes certain categories of harm or wrongdoers. There are subsequently two dimensions to this ‘ crisis of penal legitimacy ’ (Fitzgerald and Sim, 1982): political legitimacy; moral legitimacy. Fitzgerald and Sim provide a classic statement of the crisis of political legitimacy: the sanction of imprisonment is invoked consistently against marginal, lower class offenders. In so doing, imprisonment serves a class-based legal system, which first, defines the social harm which are signalled out for punishment, and second, invokes different types of sanctions for different categories of social harm. (1982, p. 24) For abolitionists such as Joe Sim, imprisonment cannot be understood outside of social context—i.e. the social divisions and structural inequities of society around racism, sexism and poverty. Because we lock up the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless, rather than the most dangerous, prisons do not do what they claim to do. In this sense, they are politically illegitimate. The moral legitimacy of imprisonment has also been questioned. For Barbara Hudson and a number of abolitionists from Continental Europe, imprisonment must be understood within the wider debates on punishment (the intentional imposition of suffering). The very deploy- ment of the punitive rationale and punishment itself, rather than the liberal reductionist concerns with prison conditions or standards, become the central focus of a moral critique. For many abolitionists, the deliberate infliction of pain is inherently morally problematic and so the penal system also faces a crisis of moral legitimacy. The term ‘neo-abolitionism’ was first introduced by Dutch abolition- ist Rene van Swaaningen. Some neo-abolitionists (Scott, 2006) argue that prisons are profoundly immoral and represent the negation of humanity, on the bases that: the label ‘prisoner’ constructs a dehumansing context; the pains of imprisonment are structured, and present inherent threats to human dignity and respect; prisons are a spatial matrix that is predicated on violence and legalised terror; prisons dehabilitate people. 157 FUTURE DIRECTIONS AND ALTERNATIVE VISIONS Scott(Penology)-3644-Part-II-b.qxd 10/15/2007 7:10 PM Page 157
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The prison is an inherently harm-creating environment that has direct implications for the health of those confined. For anti-prison critics, penal institutions are detestable solutions that we can live without—and this implies their deligitimation.
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