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Friday, January 22, 2010

Prison, its Characteristics and Aims

Friday, January 22, 2010 - 0 Comments

The crimes have existed in every society and in all times. Seeing that there is no society nor any era which is free from crimes, one is temped to say that criminality and humanity are the two sides of the same coin; and if this hurts some sensitive souls, this at least can be maintained without the fear of contradiction that no society can be free from a-social elements. The conception of society involves the conception of discipline and the discipline is needed only if the subject of discipline is wild, free and unfettered. The social thinkers have always been concerned about the ways of dealing with the crime and the criminals. Some have advocated the simplest way of elimination: kill or transport criminals. But others have advocated a moderate approach of reform and rehabilitation of the criminal by letting them realize their folly and learn the new way of life. It is under this approach that the idea of prison sprang up and various shelters or housing complexes were put up to exclude the criminal from the society so that he may realize and learn that deviant life does not pay and that he must accept the discipline of the society. In order to know fully about prison, their aim and purpose, we must first of all, attempt a definition of the prison.

Definition of Prison

The prison is a place which shelters persons of a particular category, viz. criminals, each for a definite period depending upon the ruling of the courts, to the exclusion of his family members. Below we give the definitions offered by eminent scholars of penology:

(A) In his book Society and the Criminal, M. J. Sethna defines prison thus; “A prison (meaning a ‘cage’) is a place for detention, prisons are places for detention of undertrials also. They are the place where the offender can be loged for his/her reformation”. Two features emerge from this definition: (1) prison is a place of temporary stay and (2) the temporary stay is intended to reform the criminal, that is, make him realize the folly of his deviant behaviour and also help him accept the normal ways of living.

(B) According to the ordinance of 1984, a prison house is a particular building or a building complex set up and maintained by the state government for keeping on a temporary or permanent basis the convicts and the undertrials. This definition brings out an important feature of the prison, namely, the fact that it is set up and maintained by the state government.

(C) Fairchild has defined the prison house in his Dictionary of Sociology thus: The prison house is a “penal institution operated by either the state or the federal government and used only for adult offenders whose sentence exceeds one year.” The definition of Fairchild brings out three elements: (1) government; (2) only adults are lodged there and they must have been proclaimed offender by the courts and (3) only those offenders are kept in the prison whose sentence exceeds one year.



Importance of Probation

Probation methods represent a distinct break with the classical theory of criminal law for here an attempt is made to deal with the offenders as individuals rather than as classes and to select certain offenders who can be expected to change their attitudes and habits with assistance while residing in the free community and to use punitive methods of rendering assistance.

What is Probation?

Probation is the suspension of a sentence during a period of liberty in the community condition upon the good behaviour of the convicted offender. It is thus a substitute to imprisonment. The Court and Probation Board looks after probation work. In many states probation is granted after the conviction for an offence. Before a person is placed on probation an investigation of character and the conditions of his crime is generally made. Probation is used as a substitute for discharging without supervision and imprisonment. The terms of probation are generally fixed by the court and Probation Board. They include observance of all laws, good habits, keeping good company, regular reports as required, regular work or school attendance, payment of fines or reparation, abstinence from the use of alcohol and drug, avoidance of unnecessary debts, living in a specified place, not marrying or divorcing, etc. a probationer may be required to undergo specific medical or psychiatric treatment. The maximum probation period is generally fixed by law and is the same as the maximum prison sentence for the offence. The probation officer informs the court if the probationer breaks the condition of probation.

Procedure or Probation

After he has been granted probation a probationer is assigned to a specified probation officer who administers the probation programme Contacts between the probation officer and his ward are made either in his officer or to the home of the probationer. Home visits are regarded as more effective. Probations are to report to the probation officer at regular intervals. The probationer is both supervised and guided towards non criminality. The objective of probation work is to change the attitude of probationers. The procedure for modifying attitudes consists essentially in arranging the person’s group relations. In order to be effective the policy of probation must be implemented by organizations of the local community, counselling by the probation officer and the receptivity and attitude of society especially that of the intimate groups like family and neighbourhood towards the probationer. Probation is the only method which totally avoids the punitive reaction as the only method which a released criminal has to cope with.

Modern notions of crime and criminality aim at reform and rehabiliation of criminals and correctional measures consist of parole, probation, juvenile reformatories, minimum security prisons, adult reformatories etc. But the defect in the correctional administration many a time mars the very purpose of correction which aims at the rehabilitation of the criminal into social life and the preparation of proper social environment for him. As a result of the constant clamour by reformers and the defects observed in the actual correctional practices welfare minded government have introduced measures which aim at establishing better relations between prisoner and his parole officer or prison guard. The defects lay in the selection of the parole and probation boards, absence of proper case work, terms of parole etc. Today the rules regarding parole and probation have been further elaborated and clear guidelines have been laid down. Suitable qualifications which mainly include proper counselling aptitude have been elaborately laid down and strictly adhered to in the selection of parole and probation officers. Further the implications of parole and probation have been made widely known and the parole officer is a friend, philosopher and guide to the prisoner. Proper checks and counterchecks have been provided in the internal working of probation and parole mechanisms. The conditions of parole have been further simplified. Proper placement of the prisoner in gainful employment is a necessary condition of probation and parole. Emphasis is given to the proper training which includes human relations and social work as its essential parts. Proper reforms have also been made in the prison administration where the prison guard today is the nominal supervisor of prisoner’s activities. The period of parole and probation has been considerably reduced and parole is treated only as a connecting link between the prison and the open society. Proper record is kept of the prisoner’s behaviour and the prisoner is encouraged to gain as much as possible for good behaviour to speeden his release. Individual case work is given all the importance and social workers help in the process. Parole officer is generally a Social Worker.

Practical Reforms and Judicial Reforms about Criminal Law

The data of criminal anthropology and statistics, and the positive theory of responsibility which flows from them, although they have been systematised only by the positive school, are nevertheless too constantly in evidence not to have made their way into courts and parliaments.
I have already spoken of penal jurisprudence in its relations with criminal sociology, and may now cite a few examples of the more or less direct and avowed influence of the new data on penal legislation.
The legislators of t-day, vaguely impressed by statistical and biological, ethnographical and anthropological data, and still imbued with the old prejudice of social and political artificiality, were at first hurried into a regular mania for legislation, under which every newly observed social phenomenon seemed to demand a special law, regulation, or article in the penal code. Then, as Spence has said in one of his most brilliant essays, the citizens finds himself in an inextricable network of laws, decrees, regulations and codes, which surround him, support him, fetter and bind him, even before his birth and after his death. For those whom M. Bordier calls the gardeners and trussmakers of society, forgetting the natural character of social phenomenon, picture society as so much paste, to which the cook may give any form he pleases, whether pie-crust, dumpling, or tart.
Hence we see on all sides, side by side with dogma in the classical sciences of law, economy, and politics, empiricism in the laws themselves. And that is why the practical defects and constant impotence of repression in penal justice are the most eloquent arguments of the experimental school, which extends and strengthens its own theoretical inductions by the practical reforms which it suggests.
A first example of the influence more directly exercised by the new ideas in penal legislation is furnished by the proposal already realised in the penal laws of Holland, Italy &c, of two parallel systems of punishment by detention-one for the graver and more dangerous crimes, and the other, “simple detention,” or custodia honesta (“as a first-class misdemeanant”), for contraventions, involuntary offences, and crimes not inspired by the baser passions.
Similarly, the enumeration contained in certain codes, as in Spain, and in the old Mancini draft of a penal code in Italy, of the main aggravating and extenuating circumstances common to all crimes and offences, such as the antecedents of the accused, venial or inexcusable passion, repentance and confession of a crime, extent of injury or the like, is only an elementary and empiric form of the biological and psychological classification of criminals.
Thus also the foundation of asylums for the detention of lunatic criminals, in spite of their being acquitted of moral responsibility; the more and more vigorous, but often too empirical measures against the progressive increase of recidivism; the proposed repressive measures as alternatives to short terms of detention; the recreation against the exaggerations of cellular confinement, which I regard as one of the aberrations of the nineteenth century, are all manifest proofs of the more or less avowed and logical influence of the data of criminal biology and sociology on contemporary penal legislation.
These practical reforms, which, when grafted on the old trunk of the classical theories of crime and punishment, are mere arbitrary and misplaced expedients, really represent, when they are logically coordinated and completed, the new system of social defence against crime, which is based on the scientific data and inductions of the positive school, and which it is therefore necessary for us to trace out from its foundations.
In the first place, whilst the positive theories largely reduce the practical importance of the penal code, yet they do more to increase the importance of the rules of penal procedure, which are intended to give practical and daily effect to penal measures, for the defence of society against criminals. For, as I maintained in the Italian Parliament, if the penal code is a code for evil-doers that of penal procedure is a code for honest people, who are placed on their trial but not yet found guilty.
This is all the more true because, if it is possible to have penal codes whose machinery of psychological coercion is planted on a platonic platform of penitentiary systems written out fair in their symmetrical clauses, but still non-existent, as is the case in Italy, this is not possible in regard to penal procedure. The regulations of the code of “instruction” must of necessity be carried out by a judicial routine. The penal code may remain a dead letter, as, for instance, when it says that punishment by detention is to be inflicted in prisons constructed with cells; for happily, the cells necessary in Italy for fifty or sixty thousand prisoners (or in France for thirty or forty thousand) are too expensive to admit of the observance of these articles of the penal code-which nevertheless have cost so many academic discussions as to the best penitentiary system: “Auburn,” “Philadelphian,” “Irish” or “progressive.” In the organisation of justice, on the other hand, every legal regulation has its immediate application, and therefore reforms of procedure produce immediate and visible results.
It may be added that, if the slight deterrent influence which it is possible for punishment to exercise depends, with its adaptation to various types of criminals, on the certitude and promptitude of its application, the others depend precisely and solely on the organisation of the police, and of penal procedure.
Passing over special and technical reforms which even the classical experts in crime demand in the systems of procedure, and often rather on behalf of the criminals than on behalf of society, we may connect the positive innovations in judicial procedure with these two general principles: - (1) the equal recognition of the rights and guarantees of the prisoner to be tried and of the society which tries him; and (2) the legal sentence, whereof the object is not to define the indeterminable moral culpability of the prisoner, nor the impersonal applicability of an article in the penal code to crime under consideration; but the application of the law which is most appropriate to the perpetrator of the crime, according to his more or less antisocial characteristics, both physiological and psychological.
From Beccaria onward, penal law developed by reaction against the excessive and arbitrary severity of the middle Ages – a reaction which led to a progressive decrease of punishments. Similarly official penal procedure in the nineteenth century has been, and continues to be, a reaction against the medieval abuses of the inquisitorial system, in the sense of a progressive increase of individual guarantees against the domination of society.
As we considered it necessary in the interests of social self-defence, in the case of criminal law, to combat the individualist excesses of the classical school, so in regard to penal procedure, whilst admitting the irrevocable guarantees of individual liberty, secured under the old system, we think it necessary to restore the equilibrium between individual and social rights, which has been disturbed by the many exaggerations of the classical theories, as well will now proceed to show by a few examples.
The presumption of innocence, and therewith the more general rule, “in dubio pro reo,” is certainly based on an actual truth, and is doubtless obligatory during the progress of the trial. Undetected criminals are fortunately a very small minority as compared with honest people; and we must consequently regard every man who is placed on his trial as innocent until the contrary has been proved.
But when proof to the contrary is evident, as, for instance, in the case of a flagrant crime, or of confession confirmed by other elements in the trial, it seems fit that the presumption should cease in view of absolute fact; and especially when we have to do with habitual criminals.
Even the criminals of this class whom I have questioned recognise a presumption of the opposite kind. “They have convicted me”, said a habitual thief, “because they knew I might have done it, without any proof; and they were in the right. You will never be convicted, because you never stole; and if we happen to be innocent once in a way, that must be set against the other times when we are not discovered”. And the ironical smile of several of these prisoners, condemned on circumstantial evidence, reminded me of a provision which was once proposed in the Italian penal code, under which a person surprised in the attempt to commit a crime, if it was not known what precise form his crime would have taken, was to be found guilty of a less serious offence. This might be good for an occasional criminal, or a criminal of passion, but would be absurd and dangerous for habitual criminals and old offenders.
The exaggerations of the presumption “in dubio pro reo” are due to a sort of mummification and degeneracy of the legal maxims, whereby propositions based upon observation and generalisation from existing facts continue in force and are mechanically applied after the facts have changed or ceased to exist.
What reason can there be for extending provisional freedom, pending an appeal, to one who has already been found guilty and liable to punishment for a crime or offence, under sentence of a court of first instance? To presume the innocence of every one during the first trial is reasonable; but to persist in a presumption which has been destroyed by facts, after a first condemnation, would be incomprehensible if it were not a manifestly exaggerated outcome of classical and individualist theories, which can only see a “victim of authority” in every accused person, and in every condemned person also.
Another point is that of acquittal in case of equality of votes, especially where born and habitual criminals are concerned. I think it would be much more reasonable to restore the verdict of “not proven,” which the Romans admitted under the form of “non liquet,” as an alternative to “absolvo” and “condemno,” and which may be delivered by juries in Scotland. Every one who has been put on his trial is entitled to have his innocence declared, if it has been actually proved. But if the proofs remain incomplete, his only right is not to be condemned, since his culpability has not been proved. But it is not the duty of society to declare him absolutely innocent, when suspicious circumstances remain. In this case the only logical and just verdict is one of “not proven.” Such a verdict would obliterate the shadow of doubt which rests on persons who have been acquitted, by reason of the identical verdicts in cases of proved innocence and inadequacy of proof, and on the other hand it would avoid the tendency to compromise, under which judges and juries, in place of acquitting when the proof is insufficient, sometimes prefer to convict, but make the punishment lighter.

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