U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Penitentiary Standardization of the Vow of an Impossible Reform

NCJ Number
Deviance et societe Volume: 4 Issue: 2 Dated: (June 1980) Pages: 131-147
M Seyler
Date Published
17 pages
French corrections have been traditionally characterized by well-meaning and progressive legislative reforms, which were never actually implemented and remained, without tangible effects on prison realities.
The first significant correctional reform was enacted in France in 1944 when the country was liberated from the German occupation and, influenced by large number of returned French prisoners of war, public opinion was sensitized to correctional issues. The 1944 reform law was a statement of progressive but vague penological principles, emphasizing the correction and reeducation of prisoners through school instruction and vocational training. Prison guards were assigned the guardian role of inmates--wayward children to be corrected by their betters. This arrangement gratified the guards by artificially raising them above prisoners, even though both hail from the same low socioeconomic background. This corrections model remained largely an ideal progressive notion until 1975, when a correctional reform law stipulated equality between prisoners (now euphemistically called inmates) and guards (now correctional personnel). The egalitarian philosophy antagonized the latter, who claim that inmates now have all the rights and privileges: they can wear long hair, beards, their own clothes, receive mail, periodicals and books, purchase merchandise at the prison commissary, have radios and cassettes of better quality than their guards can afford. Guards now complain of being the inmates' errand boys, with their status lowered to that of mere turnkeys. Higher pay does not compensate correctional guards for the loss of their sense of mission nor for the stigmatization by their required prison uniforms. Even correctional administrators are uncertain of their new roles and resent the loss of inmates' gains prove chiefly cosmetic: they are still deprived of personal freedom; their access to correctional administrators is formal but ineffective; inmate-staff relations are informal but empty. Structured group encounters prescribed by the 1975 law are resisted by correctional staff as allegedly impossible to implement in realistic prison situations. Societal changes and institutional rigidity are still in conflict. Twenty-one references are appended.