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Research paper topic: Control As Enterprise: Reflections On Privatization And Criminal Justice - 2864 words
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.. ness with non-profit community groups that ran many of the halfway houses and towards corporate, commercial, and for-profit groups. Second, I think this decision signals a move away from humane or at least human forms of supervision in favour of a move toward technological forms of supervision, a move from human to technological control. Let me know talk a little bit about capsicum. A more difficult scenario arose when the Ministry of the Solicitor General was approached by the private sector to try and market capsicum for use by police officers.
Capsicum is a form of pepper which when packaged in a can and sprayed has the effect of totally immobilising its human target. Now given that capsicum is based on a natural product rather than a chemical product, and given that its use leaves no trace on the person after a little while, one might facetiously describe it as an environmentally friendly form of mace. In Ontario efforts to market capsicum were made at a politically, volatile moment. In the late 80s and early 90s there had been a series of police shootings, people had been injured and killed and the startling pattern that seemed to be emerging that many of the victims were young, back males and who were unarmed or at least not armed with a firearms. So it was a time of very strong tensions between police and minority groups. The argument was made that if the police were to use capsicum it would be a non-lethal weapon which would reduce their use of guns, so the argument was made at a very opportune moment.
Not surprisingly, many people were in favour of this. Meanwhile, one of the barriers to reform, which was cost, was removed as an offer was made to the government to supply capsicum for free during the trail period. While the arguments in favour of police using capsicum are compelling, I have some concerns about it and had at the time. In the first place, there is a long history of claims that problems of crime fighting and control over police can be solved by one or another technology. I am thinking here of the history given in Rubbenstein's book City Police. I also thought that it was problematic that the product was being sold on the argument that it would reduce the police use of firearms because there was no evidence given that this would be the case.
So although capsicum had been used for a while in the United States, we were not presented with any hard evidence of any specific place where the use of capsicum was associated with a reduced use of firearms. Now some people might argue that the advantages of capsicum are so obvious that one does not need any research to demonstrate this. But if you think for example in the case of Rodney King - capsicum was used on him. So it is difficult to claim definitively that the use of capsicum is going to preclude other problems in police behaviour. Overall I think one can draw a parallel between the use of capsicum and electronic monitoring. Where electronic monitoring can become an add on to community programs, capsicum can become an add on to the non-lethal weapons already used by police. I think I was the only person in Ontario who thought all of this.
Everybody was in favour of it, and it was adopted. Subsequent to this police in Ontario carried capsicum and overall I think the 1990s have been a period where the non-lethal weaponry of the police has greatly extended. But meanwhile the problems with injuries and fatalities continue to occur. And again, research is needed in this area. For example, in Ottawa in early 1995 a man drowned after he had been sprayed with capsicum and ran away from the police.
Just recently I read a claim that in California at least 26 people have died since 1993 following the use of capsicum. However, let me immediately say that from the point of view of politicians and civil servants, I can very well understand that when confronted with an issue like this or when approached by companies, its very understandable that they will be open to accepting such a product. This is one of the difficulties in this area. It very often seems easier to argue in favour of the product then it is to argue against it. So I think one could sound like a killjoy when these companies come in and say if police shootings is a problem, give them capsicum, you can sound like a real pessimist or negative person, which I don't like to think I am at heart, when you say that maybe there is a few problems or potential problems here that we should be looking at.
So as I say, this is one of the difficulties in this area, that some how it seems much easier to argue in favour of electronic monitoring or argue in favour of capsicum then it is to argue against it. Another trend or area that these companies are working in is in relation to individuals. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, that is long with us, is the selling of alarms, which are now a taken for granted feature of life at least in a city. Meanwhile whether you go into apartment buildings in Toronto or go in to visit people who live in buildings with courtyards in Paris or where ever it might be, there can be a bewildering array of security checks or codes and so on that one has to get through in order to just go and visit somebody you know. In North America you are now seeing whole neighbourhoods being surrounded and permeated with these security devices, some people refer to these as gated communities.
As these burglar alarms and security devices are becoming more taken for granted features, I think that the private companies are looking continuously for new markets and doing quite well. They are looking at various groups of individuals and one case in point here, which again needs research, is that of women. Women are being targeted by a range of products, I will just give you one or two examples. The first one is again capsicum. We see ads in women's magazines which urge women to buy a capsicum gun, the image being that if somebody attacks you, you are going to pull this out and spray them and that is the end of your problem.
What these ads don't mention, obviously, is that if a woman can carry one of these things and acquire it, then so can her potential attacker. So now we have a situation where the potential attackers have them, and the women have them, the police have them, and everybody have them, and who is safer at the end of the day? I think far from easing crime and the fear of crime, this growing availability of capsicum may exacerbate both. In recent years the private sector has even managed to use fear of crime as a way of selling cellular phones to women. So women are told, buy a cellular phone and you need never be alone. You have got an image of yourself alone driving along the highway and something happens, and you whip out the phone.
I am not going to say that that can never ever happen, but just pointing this out as a strategy for marketing a product that at first glance has nothing to do with crime. I really do think that this marketing of goods to women deserves more research because it represents par excellence the length to which the private sector will go and capitalize on and profit from people's fear of crime. A recent article has succinctly expressed that the private sector what one might call a vested interest in fear, and I think that this is something that we should think about and that is really what I am trying to get out in my presentation. Some words on the general context and consequence of privatization. As these examples illustrate the corporate and commercial sector is greatly expanding its involvement in criminal justice.
Economically it is able to capitalize on profit from public fears of crime and desires for security. In the enterprise culture of justice the phenomenon of crime appears to be a never ending resource for which corporations can profit in material ways. Let me quote Niels Christie here: Compared to most other industries, the crime control industry is in a most privileged position. There is no lack of raw material, crime seems to be an endless supply. But while the corporate and commercial sector is benefiting from privatization, its benefits for the public are far less clear.
I think that many peoples' fears of crime can be disproportionately increased by relentless emphasis on the risks and dangers they face. Meanwhile marginalised individuals and groups including the poor, homeless, and those subject to the criminal justice system experience more insidious control and more extensive control. Both those who are supposedly threatened and those who represent a threat suffer through privatization. At a more theoretical level, at which I won't get into at great detail due to time, I think that we can see privatization as a core component of what can be described as the risk society. As Richard Erickson for example has noted one logic of the risk society is a negative one.
Threats and dangers and fears about them are dealt with by the construction of suitable enemies. There is a tended labelling, denial, avoidance and exclusion - solidarity is based on the commonality of fear. I think we have to look at the rise of privatization as going hand in hand with the rise of risk society. Perhaps I will mention that Richard Erickson and Kevin Haggerty's book has just come out Policing the Risk Society and this is the most extensive empirical documentation of it so far. Just a little tangent as well, if I had more time I would talk about it, I also see these trends as going hand in hand what George Ritzer in the United States has calls the McDonaldization of society. So we have the risk society and privatization going hand in hand, and as Jean-Paul Bras D'or at the University of Montreal has pointed out that within this technological forms of risk management which are becoming prominent, electronic monitoring is just one form of that and capsicum is another, and we ought to see other technological forms of surveillance including bank cards, library cards, tags for clothing, food, and so on, and by extension as we are seen talking about now tagging people and using their finger prints to check them in and out of work or to potentially protect against welfare fraud.
So I think that we are in a situation where it is not only risks themselves but also the means to control these risks which are both omnipresent and intangible. Let me move on with some final words about private prisons. What about private prisons, how should one view them? Debates about privatization and criminal justice often focus on the specific issue of private prisons, but as I hope my presentation has made clear the issue should be seen in a much broader way and it is in fact these broader issues which get too little attention. However, seen as private prisons are a flash point and seen as it is particularly relevant in New Brunswick, I would like to make a few reflections on this particular phenomenon. Overall I think that concerns over private prisons fall into two major types or two sets of issues. The first set of issues we might describe as practical issues, and here we are talking about legal issues - can private prisons be legal; cost issues - how much will private prisons cost compared to public ones; and similarly quality issues, management issues and effectiveness issues. That whole set of issues are very practical or policy issues.
The second set of issues are moral, political and social issues, and especially questions about whether the profit oriented private sector can and will provide services which are humanitarian, just and supportive of prisoners and the public's good. So we are asking in the sphere of prisons, can the private sector support public good? It is my position that the second set of issues - the moral, political and social issues - should take precedence over the first or more practical set of issues. One reason for this is that it is highly questionable as to whether private prisons are cheaper, more effective, more efficient, ect. than public prisons. I think this fact has been very well documented in a recent book entitled Punishment for Profit: Private Prisons, Public Concerns.
This book provides good evidence that one can not definitively argue that private prisons are all the things that they are claimed to be. But even more importantly than that I think, moral, political and social issues should precedence because prisons are distinctively different to other social institutions. Arguably, political and governmental responsibility with respect to prisons is not just an administrative responsibility, its not just an economic responsibility. Rather it is a moral and ethical responsibility and because of this the privatization of prisons can not be discussed for example in the same way as the privatization of phones, bus companies and so on. One might ask how are prisons different to these other institutions? Firstly, I think the prisons are different because they are literally hidden from public view, and this means that prisoners and people that work in prisons are vulnerable in a variety of ways. Secondly, prisons are different to other institutions in that their purpose is punishment, the infliction of meta-physical pain and the deprivation of liberty.
Prisoners are a captive human population, prisoners are powerless in many ways, they are not customers or clients in the usual sense of those words. So it is that the hidden nature of prisons and the relatively powerless nature of prisoners that makes privatization in this area even more problematic than in other ones. It is also difficult to see how the profit and expansionist orientation of the crime control industry is compatible with humanitarian ideas of limiting use of imprisonment and expanding rehabilitation programs, or with the development of meaningful alternatives to prison. When you think about it, it is in the interest of the private profit sector that the prison system and profit-making should grow. I think the private sector has a number of interest here and I want to list them off to you. Firstly as I say, that profit-making should grow and thereby through the growth of the imprisonment sector itself.
It is in the interest of the private sector that sentencing be more punitive and parole diminished. It is in the interest of the private sector that correctional employees be de-unionized and that salary, benefits and promotional opportunities be cut to a minimum. It is in the interest of the private, for-profit sector that accountability to the government and the public should be kept to a minimum. And finally, should savings result from privatization of prisons, it is in the interest of the private sector that as much as possible of these savings should become their profit rather than be returned to government and save the government money. So if there is any savings to be made, obviously it is in the interest of the private sector to keep as much as possible of that for themselves rather than handing it back to government.
Overall, while private prisons may be desirable from the point of view of the private sector, their consequences for prisoners, for correctional employees, for tax payers and for government may well be negative. Let me make a few concluding statements. Private prisons must be seen in the broader context of privatization of criminal justice and control. As I have tried to describe the profit impotice and the expansion of control can go hand in hand. Put bluntly, increases in the fear of crime and related demands for security even beyond any demonstrated need serve the interest of the private sector.
As Niels Christie puts it: only rarely will those working in or for any industry say now, just now, the size is about right. Now we are big enough, we are well established, we do not want any further growth. An urge for expansion is built into industrial thinking. The crime control industry is no exception. I think that in face of the ideology and practices of privatization basic questions about values, human rights and justice get left behind.
Privatization deflects attention from and distorts perceptions of real social problems. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing not only researchers and policy makers but also entrepreneurs themselves is to maintain a humanitarian focus on the consequences of privatization and despite its own rational, utilitarian and managerial discourses. I wish colleagues and students at St. Thomas University good luck as they continue to meet this challenge. Thank you. Legal Issues.
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