Imprisonment And Social Control Essay

2931 words - 12 pages

Imprisonment is one of the primary ways in which social control may be achieved; the Sage Dictionary of Criminology defines social control as a concept used to describe all the ways in which conformity may be achieved. Throughout time imprisonment and its ideas around social control have varied. Imprisonment has not always been used for punishment, nor has it always thought about the prisoners themselves. However when looking at imprisonment it is important to consider the new penology. Therefore, it needs to be clear what the new penology is. The new penology is said, not to be about punishing individuals or about rehabilitating them, but about identifying and managing unruly groups in society. It is concerned with the managerial processes, not the individual’s behaviour or even community organisation. All in all, its goal is to make crime tolerable, not to eliminate it entirely. (Feeley, M and Simon, J). Therefore the New Penology is not about the reform of individuals but the control of populations as a whole, with imprisonment focusing on particular offenders who are defined as ‘persistent’ or ‘high rate’. In light of this, the history of imprisonment, the purposes of imprisonment and indeed the question of whether it works as a form of social control or not all need to be addressed, as well as looking into the critics of the new penology.
Imprisonment has a number of purposes, the first being punishment, which brings with it the idea of retribution and revenge. The second purpose is incapacitation, this looks at the protection of society and the length of time the individual must serve in prison. Deterrence is the third purpose; it attempts to prevent the individual committing any future crime and goes some way to deter the other members of society. The fourth purpose is rehabilitation for the individual, its focus lays in helping offenders change their way of life and perhaps ‘cure criminality’.
Throughout the years, the use of imprisonment has varied, along with its influences of society. It is thought that although prisons have been around since the thirteenth century, prisons as we know them now to be have only been around for the last three centuries. The first uses of prisons were not seen as a form of punishment instead they were used as a way of making people do something. People would be held in prison until they paid their debts, or awaiting trial and then leading up to their sentence. McGowen (1995) suggests that from the early 1700s ‘bridewells’ a house of correction have existed, however at that time being used merely for vagrants and drunks. At the end of the sixteenth century there was a shift in punishment to imprisonment, along with this came a new, more humane idea of reform. Criminals would spend their days of prison carrying out hard labour. However after the American Revolution, imprisonment took a step back and there was another change. There was mass overcrowding within the prison service and although the death...

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