location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 1 / Chapter 1 Change and Continuity in the Canadian Prison: Lessons from Scholarship

The other more radical and more pessimistic model, subtitled "Discipline and Mystification" by Cohen, presents a very different historical trajectory.

The original transformation of the system was not what it appeared to be, nor should the subsequent history of institutions like the reformed 19th-century prison be explained as stories of "failure". Contrary to Rothman's sad tale, the system was and is continuously "successful", not, of course, in line with the progress story, but in the sense of fulfilling quite other than its declared function. The new control system served the requirements of the emerging capitalist order for continual repression of the recalcitrant members of the working class and, at the same time, continued to mystify everyone (including the reformers themselves) into thinking that these changes were fair, humane and progressive.

The motor force of history lies in the political economy and, in the more orthodox version of this model, the theory of social change is clearly materialistic. . .

This is what the reformed prison does. It renders docile the recalcitrant members of the working class, it deters others, it teaches habits of discipline and order, it reproduces the lost hierarchy. It repairs defective humans to compete in the market place. Not just the prison but the crime system as a whole, is part of the larger rationalisation of social relations in nascent capitalism. The transition from the paternalistic social order to the capitalist market system calls for new forms of regulating economic and social relationships. A new technology of repression emerges to legitimate and strengthen ruling-class control over the work-force and to deal with various redundant, superfluous or marginal populations -- those groups less amenable to the virtues of bourgeois rationality . . . The state takes on a more and more active role in guiding, co-ordinating and planning a criminal justice system which can achieve a more thorough, rationalised penetration of the subject population. (at 23)

In this model of revisionism, subtitled "Discipline and Mystification" by Cohen, there are several variations. By far the most influential one in the scholarly literature is that of Michel Foucault. Cohen suggests that Foucault's influence is so pervasive that "to write today about punishment and classification without Foucault, is like talking about the unconscious without Freud" (Cohen at 10). Foucault's seminal book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is part of a larger body of work that traverses the issues of madness, medicine and sexuality, and traces the principles of surveillance and discipline that underpin modern penal institutions, focussing upon the technologies of penal power and the language in which they operate (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison [New York: Pantheon, 1980]). In many respects Foucault's work, to use the analogy of Ori Kowarsky, sets out to describe the DNA of modern punishment. Stanley Cohen offers this summary of Foucault's thesis:

The "Great Incarcerations" of the 19th century -- thieves into prisons, lunatics into asylums, conscripts into barracks, workers into factories, children into school -- are to be seen as part of a grand design. Property had to be protected, production had to be standardized by regulations, the young segregated and inculcated with the ideology of thrift and success, the deviant subjected to discipline and surveillance (Cohen at 25).

Foucault's account of the disappearance of punishment as a public, theatrical spectacle of violence applied against the body, and of the emergence of the prison as the general form of modern punishment, which is applied in places removed from the public gaze, is captured in this passage from David Garland, whose book Punishment and Modern Society: A Study in Societal Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) is a finely wrought analysis of the history and social theory of punishment.

This change in penal styles, which, according to Foucault, took place throughout Europe and the US between about 1750 and 1820, is to be understood as a qualitative shift rather than a mere decrease in the quantity or intensity of punishment. The target of punishment is shifted so that measures are now aimed to affect the "soul" of the offender rather than to just strike his body. At the same time the objective of punishment undergoes a change so that the concern is now less to avenge the crime than to transform the criminal who stands behind it.

This change in penal technology -- from the scaffold to the penitentiary -- signifies for Foucault a deeper change in the character of justice itself. In particular the new concern -- which the prison introduced -- to know the criminal, to understand the sources of his criminality, and to intervene to correct them wherever possible, had profound implications for the whole system of criminal justice. In this modern system the focus of judgement shifts away from the offence itself towards questions of character, of family background, and of the individual's history and environment. This will ultimately involve the introduction of experts -- psychiatrists, criminologists, social workers, etc. -- into the judicial process, with the aim of forming a knowledge of the individual, identifying his or her abnormalities and bringing about the reformation. The result of these changes is a system of dealing with offenders that is not so much punitive as corrective, more intent upon producing normal, conforming individuals than upon dispensing punishments: a penal system that the Americans named best when they called it, simply, "corrections". (at 136)

Page 6 of 9