The prison cannot fail to produce delinquents

The prison cannot fail to produce delinquents. It does so by the very type of existence that it imposes on its inmates: whether they are isolated in cells or whether they are given useless work, for which they will find no employment, it is, in any case, not ‘to think of man in society; it is to create an unnatural, useless and dangerous existence’; the prison should educate its inmates, but can a system of education addressed to man reasonably have as its object to act against the wishes of nature? The prison also produces delinquents by imposing violent constraints on its inmates; it is supposed to apply the law, and to teach respect for it; but all its functioning operates in the form of an abuse of power. The arbitrary power of administration: ‘The feeling of injustice that a prisoner has is one of the causes that may make his character untamable. When he sees himself exposed in this way to suffering, which the law has neither ordered nor envisaged, he becomes habitually angry against everything around him; he sees every agent of authority as an executioner; he no longer thinks that he was guilty; he accuses justice itself’ (Bigot Préameneu). Corruption, fear and the inefficiency of the warders: ‘Between 1,000 and 1,500 convicts live under the surveillance of between thirty and forty supervisors, who can preserve some kind of security only by depending on informers, that is to say, on the corruption that they carefully sow themselves. Who are these warders? Retired soldiers, men uninstructed in their task, making a trade of guarding malefactors’ (La Fraternité, March 1842). Exploitation by penal labour, which can in these conditions have no educational character: ‘One inveighs against the slave-trade. But are not our prisoners sold, like the slaves, by entrepreneurs and bought by manufacturers. … Is this how we teach our prisoners honesty? Are they not still more demoralized by these examples of abominable exploitation?’

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, pp. 266-67


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