New Internationalist Issue 282
5 August 1996
New Internationalist Issue 282
The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist
From this month's editor
When the NI deals with global issues in a fractured world it can uncover some strange anomalies. For example our relative wealth in the North enables us to imprison far more of our (usually poor) citizens than is even conceivable for the resource-starved South. Unfortunately this does not mean a more benign approach to criminal justice in Lima or Lagos - where police act like occupying armies and summary execution of the marginalized is a constant hazard.
While this issue on criminal justice explores matters relating to prison and police in the South, it concentrates on the causes and consequences of the growing system of mass incarceration, led most dramatically by the US. The fact that we can squander valuable resources - to say nothing of people - is just one of the many 'benefits' of development that the South might do better not to imitate.
One becomes slightly obsessive about the theme of the NI issue under construction: discussions and sometimes arguments with one's friends seem an inevitable consequence. What to do with criminals has proved a particularly hot topic. When you say something critical about the prison system it is almost automatically assumed that you want to let loose the vilest of murderers and sexual predators on the innocent community. There are few who would advocate such a course. The fact is that the vast majority of those in prison are there for non-violent, often quite minor offences. Many are in for victimless crimes or for violating highly questionable laws. To reduce them all to contract killers or the Peter Sutcliffes (the Yorkshire Ripper) or Paul Bernardos (Ontario's butcher of teenage girls) of this world makes absolutely no sense. Yet I have found the emotion generated by the horror of such crimes can blind even the most thoughtful.
For this issue I felt it necessary - but found it quite difficult - to get into prison to talk to inmates. Odd, considering the difficulty that some have in getting out and staying out. I ended up spending several weeks waiting for a lock-down to end to get into a Canadian penitentiary. My first attempt involved the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in Tallahassee. I was informed by a syrupy Southern voice that an investigative visit was unlikely to be allowed but that I could certainly go and visit a prisoner. To their surprise I came up with one, Gerald Niles, held in the Columbia Correctional Institute in Lake City. The voice checked the computer and then informed me that it was unlikely that I could visit Niles because he was under 'close management'. A subsequent phone call confirmed this. My curiosity was provoked, so I decided to communicate with Niles by mail. He described to me the experience of close management, concluding that 'Florida DOC is especially bad about trying to govern every moment of every life it holds captive. They encounter natural resistance that is impossible to squash. So why even try in the first place'? That 'why?' needs to be addressed to the entire system of mass incarceration.
Special greetings to those NI readers currently incarcerated - please pass this along to a fellow inmate.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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