Before we contemplate answering such a question the first thing one must aim to understand is the specific meaning given to the term 'crisis.' It has to be put in some context. If by crisis one means that the prison system is teetering on the brink of collapse then the evidence available would suggest that there is no crisis at all. However the more likely interpretation is that there are actually very serious problems that either cannot or will not be alleviated. now when you look at evidence under this guise, one could strongly argue that our prison system is in a state of crisis. Presenting such an argument inevitably leads one to explore the role of the prison system within contemporary society, and whether it is still fulfilling the purpose it set out to achieve. According to Michael Foucault in Garland (1990)....
"The prison has always been a failure in penological terms, but it successfully achieves important political effects at a wider social level, which is why it has never been abandoned."
What one can surmise from Foucault's thoughts are that whilst the prison may be a failure within penological terms, with the existence of a penal crisis strengthening the argument, it has actually been a success within the circles of politics.
In order to understand a crisis we need to further look at who this system benefits, it is not enough to simply state that it has been a success in political climbs. However let us start with the purpose of prison, and aptly with the work of Foucault, who carried out vast amounts of research regarding incarceration and subsequently published the well known 'Prisons and punishment' book. Cording to him the reason as to why prisons persist are primarily due the fact that it is rooted in the very fabric of society, and secondly it carries out specific functions to great effect. Effectively what may be deemed failure on an overt level, could be assessed as success on a covert level. The creation, by the ruling class, of crime and delinquency enhances the fear of prison and guarantees the authority and power of the police. Prisons ensure that criminals are known to the authorities, and once the threats have been identified the system keeps control over them for a specified amount of time....
"As a state controlled apparatus of repression and ideology, penality plays a role in more extended social conflicts and strategies of domination....an instrument of governance by one class against another."
By seeing the prison as a tool used perhaps in conflict, one can begin to understand the fact that crises within the prison system are inevitable in the primary form of conflict. The prison, in fact the whole penal system itself, is not shaped by patterns of criminality but by ruling class perceptions of what they see to be the 'problematic poor.' I would at this juncture venture to suggest that were the system to be based on crime patterns then there may not even be a crisis.
So let us continue to analyse the term crisis. It would seem that the public see a crisis of containment, for example through the media coverage on the escapes from Whitemoore dispersal unit in 1994. In the following year three lifers escaped from Parkhurst prison, which again received an unprecedented amount of media analysis. The Government responds to such issues by setting up investigations into the incidents, with the Learmont report being one such example. The media play a key role in facilitating a crisis, it is through them that the public become aware of problems, yet it is also through them that politicians such as Michael Howard claim that 'prison works' and that there is no crisis.
Indeed it is the media that adopts the approach of the first theory I will discuss, which acknowledges the fact that there is a crisis, but it is exclusively located within the prison system rather than the penal system as a whole. This is known as the orthodox account, which...
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