Term Paper #3
Work submitted to
Professor Justin Piché
In the course Abolitionism and the Criminal Justice System (CRM 4302)
Department de Criminology
University of Ottawa
December 11th 2012
Many individuals believe that the criminal system and its institutions are flawed. These critiques have been brought on by the ineffectiveness of prisons to reform individuals, the ineptness of the system to reduce crime rates, the lack of focus on victims of crimes, as well as the racist, classist and sexist practices existing in these institutions. Therefore, we can ask ourselves if the elimination of the current penal system and the implementation of alternatives would better allow resolve of societal conflict? The following paper will explain why activist and scholars have rejected reliance upon the current penal system and it’s structures to put forth alternatives that they find will be more successful and less repressive. The first part of this paper will focus on key arguments that abolitionists have advanced for the abolition of prison. The second part will focus on arguments advanced by abolitionist for total penal and carceral abolitionism. The last part will focus on the strategies and alternatives that abolitionists have mobilized in their pursuit of prison, penal and carceral abolition. The main works used to support these arguments will be of Davis, Mathieson, Beauchesne, Kappeler, Dyches, Guanipa, Elliot, Morris, Montur-Angus and Beck. To begin, activist and scholars have advanced in arguing for the abolition of prisons with three key arguments: First, prisons fail at general prevention of crimes, one of the main objectives the institution has set for itself; Second, this institution has failed at rehabilitating those who have been incarcerated; Third, this institution causes more harm than good with a multitude of collateral consequences. The works of Mathieson, Richie, Clear, Beauchesne and Kappeler will be used in this section to illustrate the above arguments. Firstly, general prevention. The goal of general prevention is to deter others from committing criminal acts by making an example of those who have. Punishment will therefore be used a message from the state to the general population. The state intends to make clear that crime does not pay, that it is immoral and that individuals should get in the habit of avoiding certain acts. (Mathiesen, 2008, p. 65) This message from the state is invocated to the general population through a message carrier: the media. However “ The media chooses and presents crime problems for public consumption. The selection of crime problems is often limited to the most bizarre or gruesome act a journalist or investigator can uncover.” (Kappeler, 2000, p.5) Because of this, the general population does not receive the state’s message in regards to common crimes such as theft. It is therefore difficult to prevent these crimes in society since the message about their avoidance has not been transmitted to the general population. An additional issue with general prevention is message complexity lost through media filtration. “ Filtration means that the details of legislation and sentencing practice, the choices between sanctions which are close to each other and which constitute the everyday routine of criminal policy, are systematically if not totally left out.” (Mathiesen, 2008, p.72) In order to deter individuals from committing crimes, punishment must be expected. The state therefore wants to send the message that if you commit crime “x” you will receive penalty “y”. However, most people are unaware of the sentences that will be received for committing crimes. “ In this regard, research illustrates that the general public tends to underestimate the severity of sanctions generally imposed. This is not surprising given that members of the public are often unaware of the specifics of sentencing policies.” (Wright, 2010, p....
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