The Persistent Prison?

The Persistent Prison?: Rethinking Decarceration and Penal Reform

MAEVE W. McMAHON
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 274
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442682023
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    The Persistent Prison?
    Book Description:

    The Prison system is widely believed to be an immutable element of contemporary society. Many criminologists and sociologists of deviance believe that decarceration movements have failed to yield progressive reform, and that feasible alternatives to the prison system do not exist.

    Maeve McMahon challenges these views. Reconstructing the emergence of critical perspectives on decarceration, she examines analytical and empirical problems in the research. She also points out how indicators of community programs and other penalties serving as alternatives to prison have typically been overshadowed through critical focus on their effects in 'widening the net' of control.

    McMahon presents a detailed analysis of decreasing imprisonment, and of the part played by alternatives in this, during the postwar period in Ontario. Drawing from extensive documentary research, and from interviews with former correctional officials, she charts the changing climates of opinions, and socio-economic factors, which facilitated decarceration.

    By situating her analysis in the context of theoretical and political arguments about the possibility of decarceration, McMahon provides in her work a stimulus to the development of progressive penal politics not just in Canada, but in all western countries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8202-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    RICHARD V. ERICSON

    The punishment of criminal offenders is a barometer of culture. As it represses undesirable conduct, punishment simultaneously expresses civility. Punishment signifies a society’s values, morality, sensibilities, and reasoning.

    Dr Maeve McMahon offers a reading of our culture through an examination of criminal punishment in Ontario over the past forty years. She considers how the scale of punishment and forms of penal practice articulate with the reasoning of social scientists and penal administrators in the context of wider cultural, social, political, and economic forces. She pursues her inquiry through the difficult work of fine-grained empirical analyses, providing a refreshing contrast to...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. 1 Imprisonment, Alternatives, and Penality
    (pp. 3-9)

    As we approach the end of the twentieth century, issues of imprisonment are topical. Overcrowding, riots, prisoner suicides, staff discontent, and abysmal conditions are regularly reported. Answers to the question of what should be done about the prison system are regularly disputed by politicians, penal policy makers, academics, reform groups, the mass media, and the public, as well as by prisoners themselves.

    Criticisms of prisons and proposals for reform of the penal system are not recent phenomena. Since the inception of imprisonment as a major form of punishment about two hundred years ago, criticism of it has been ‘endemic to...

  7. 2 The Prison, Criminology, and Rehabilitation
    (pp. 10-22)

    As Foucault’s (1977) work suggests, and as Garland (1985b) has elaborated, the exercise of penal power through the prison, and the genesis of criminological ideas, have historically been interwoven. The emergence of a distinctively critical criminology in the late 1960s represented a concerted attempt to break with this correctionalist stance. Critical criminologists sought to move away from technicist concerns with criminals, the causes of crime, and the effectiveness of penal programs; what they considered to be at issue were deeper, more political questions about the significance of deviance, its definition, and its control, in the reproduction of an oppressive social...

  8. 3 The Evolution and Assumptions of Critical Literature on Community Corrections
    (pp. 23-44)

    Why did a purposefully critical literature on community corrections and penal control begin to emerge after the mid-1970s? What have been the major arguments and characteristics of this literature? What was its relationship to the wider emergence of distinctively critical criminology? In this chapter, I trace the genesis of the critical community-corrections literature, and examine its key assumptions about interrelationships between imprisonment and community programs. Primarily at issue here iswhat,or the typical social organization of critical views on the interrelationships of imprisonment and alternatives. In the next chapter, I analyse thehow,or the discursive and analytical tactics...

  9. 4 Problematic Aspects of the Decarceration Literature
    (pp. 45-76)

    The conventional wisdom that the development of alternatives typically leads to net-widening and penal expansion is politically problematic. It hinders recognition of any progressive accomplishments of penal reform. It undermines the prospects for developing progressive penal politics. These political problems intersect with theoretical and methodological ones: the conventional wisdom is analytically problematic. It denies the importance of human agency in the making of history. The intentions and efforts of penal reformers are seen as repeatedly thwarted by more structural factors, which are the prime movers of history. Sometimes, these moving forces are identified as economic or bureaucratic. More often than...

  10. 5 Decarceration in Postwar Ontario
    (pp. 77-103)

    What were the major tendencies in Ontario prisons and corrections during the postwar period? Here, I address this question, first, by reviewing major discursive and policy shifts in corrections; and, second, by documenting key empirical trends in the use of imprisonment. As will become clear, the postwar period was one of distinctive transformation in Ontario corrections.

    In discussing Ontario correctional history, my major focus is on provincial corrections. The main sector of the prison population referred to, therefore, is that of those serving sentences of under two years. The reason for this focus on provincial, rather than federal, corrections, is...

  11. 6 Explaining Decarceration: Trends in Probation and Community Corrections
    (pp. 104-124)

    According to decarceration analysts, probation has not reduced imprisonment, but has brought new people into the correctional system. Given this net-widening effect of probation, critical analysts have argued that it is not more humane, economical, or effective than imprisonment. Although reformist dissatisfaction with prisons provided strong arguments in favour of probation’s development, probation has failed to ameliorate the pains of imprisonment. In short, for critical analysts, probation has been justified under the false pretense of its being an alternative to imprisonment.

    The net-widening argument has been advanced, in the case of Ontario, by Chan and Ericson (1981). According to them,...

  12. 7 Explaining Decarceration: Trends in Fines and Fine Defaults
    (pp. 125-141)

    In further exploring the sources of decarceration in Ontario, one potential line of inquiry would be to examine trends in imprisonment as they relate to those in crime rates, unemployment, psychiatric hospitalization, and other factors outside the penal system. Substantial literature already exists on such interrelationships, albeit with its findings tending to be contradictory and inconsistent (see W. Young 1986).

    Arguably, the deterministic approach of these studies is unappealing. They tend to see imprisonment rates as resulting from external factors that are largely beyond immediate political control (W. Young 1986). Their orientation is such as to produce overly functionalist and...

  13. 8 Drunkenness Offenders and the Revolving Door
    (pp. 142-169)

    The huge decrease in liquor-offence admissions to prison, and particularly those for fine default, indicates that major changes took place in the processing of drunkenness offenders during the postwar period. In this chapter I document salient features of these changes. I also discuss developments in countering fine-default admissions to prison more generally. Overall, while changes in legislation, policies, and practices have substantially reduced the penalizing of liquor offenders, the problem of imprisonment for fine default for liquor, as well as other offences, has been a continuing one.

    It appears that the strikingly high rate of processing liquor offenders - to...

  14. 9 The Origins and Accomplishments of Community Corrections in Ontario
    (pp. 170-187)

    Decarceration in Ontario derived more from changes in the administration of fines than from the development of new community programs. Questions therefore arise about the intentions of correctional reformers who enthusiastically supported community corrections. Why, from the 1970s, was there an increased emphasis on, and development of, probation, halfway houses, community service orders, victim-offender reconciliation, and other such programs? Further, given that the new community programs typically took the form of adjuncts to the disposition of probation, why was their development associated with discourses of alternatives to prison?

    Such questions are important not just in the particular case of Ontario,...

  15. 10 Penal Trends in Ontario
    (pp. 188-206)

    One of the criticisms I have made of previous analyses of decarceration is that their focus has frequently been too narrow. Trends in imprisonment and community corrections are presented in tandem. Subsequent explanations of these trends, while replete with reference to economic and other structural moving forces of history, rarely examine the actions of penal agents beyond the correctional system itself. Little inquiry has been made, for example, into changes in crime rates, or into the changing practices of the public, the police, and the courts, which have an impact on the size and content of the correctional population.

    In...

  16. 11 Knowledge, Power, and Decarceration
    (pp. 207-226)

    Decarceration is possible. In Ontario, prison admissions declined by about 31 per cent and prisoner counts by about 20 per cent, per 100,000 population between the 1950s and the 1980s.

    As documented in previous chapters, this decarceration reflected changing perspectives and policies in dealing with offenders. Both criminal justice and social reform played a part. The development and growing use of probation from the 1950s provided an alternative that appears to have been used instead of imprisonment in some cases. Even more importantly, changing perceptions of, and responses to, those charged with public intoxication resulted in their deinstitutionalization. During the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 227-236)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-264)
  19. Index
    (pp. 265-274)