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New Idealism and Penal Living Standards

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 13 Dated: (Summer 1980) Pages: 45-51
H Schwendinger; J Schwendinger
Date Published
7 pages
Only through pressure from prisoner unions and political organizations within and outside prisons will legal reforms be accomplished that change the brutal standards of prison life.
From the currently popular conservative viewpoint, prisons are seen as instruments of punishment. This view assumes the fundamental fairness of punishment and its utility for crime deterrence. The principle of fairness calls for graded punishments whose severity conforms with the crimes committed. The principal fault with this viewpoint lies in aquiescence to the brutal prison conditions that are mainly due to the lack of funds and that make prisons the breeding ground for recidivism. This viewpoint is modified in the 'justice model' which advocates fairness in prison management through prisoner self-government, legal aid, and 'flat time' rather than indeterminate sentences. However, no changes in structural or administrative relations are recommended; therefore it is doubtful that this model would work. The contrasting viewpoint, opposed to the idea of punishment, calls for prisons to become the place of rehabilitation, where the root causes of crime would be eradicated. However this notion is severely limited, because it explicitly justifies better living standards only when they contribute to lower recidivism. Supportive relations between rehabilitation and human rights are therefore ambiguous and by no means assured. Since either of the presented viewpoints can lead to more humane prisons, it is recommended that the ideological struggles for prison reform adopt the vocabulary of the citizens' rights and human rights movements. Present rehabilitation programs might become more effective if pressure from prisoners' unions and working class organizations insisted that the slotting of ex-offenders into unstable, low paying jobs be stopped. References are included.