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Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Free Foucault Essays and Papers

The book discusses the idea and effectiveness of punishment in historical perspective. M. Foucault creates an interesting discussion about transformations in criminal justice and the changing role of imprisonment in social life. The book consists of four main parts, Torture, Punishment, Discipline and Prison. Each part is divided into several chapters devoted to different issues and problems.

The first and the second part of the book discuss problems of social organizations and the place of punishment as reeducation method. These two parts propose a general description of punishment and its transformations in history. Foucault states that crime is a problem facing the community, during all periods of time but one for which limited number of solutions exist. Foucault recognizes that the offender is an “enemy” who deserves condemnation and retaliation. The response lies in the ability of the state system to catch, convict, and punish the violent criminal. In order to punish offenders and prevent further crimes, four main types of punishment exist: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and societal protection.

The third part of the book, Discipline, discusses [possible ways of reeducation and the concept of panopticism. Foucault admits that prisons plays the role of discipline institutions and cannot be eliminated. Imprisonment still remains the most effective method of punishment as it keeps many people from severe and minor crimes. Once regarded as naive and needing guidance and protection, deterrence is now considered by many to be willful, malicious, and dangerous predators of the community. The forth part is devoted to the construction of prison system and its main functions. Foucault underlines that prison is only a part of modern community and networks including such institutions as healthcare, production, education and military, The reason politicians endorse punitive reforms is obvious: it is what the public wants.

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From my side, I was amassed by vivid and detailed description of social system and prison system. I agree with Foucault that prison system is inevitable and a part of modern life. People are afraid of crime. Following perspectives of other sociologists, I can say that people are tired of being the victims of theft and violence, and they want action. They want government to solve the problem (Markel, 2009). The accuracy of the public’s image of crime is irrelevant. If the public believes that a problem exists and wants changes, then responsive government must respond. Social programs providing opportunities for the disadvantaged and programs for rehabilitating criminals did not reduce crime, so penal philosophy followed the general swing back toward conservatism. Foucault is right that: “The general juridical form that guaranteed a system of rights that were egalitarian in principle was supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical that we call the disciplines” (1995, p. 222). Second, it is a reaffirmation of three goals of criminal sanction: deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution. The fourth recognized goal is reform, from which the system is moving away. Deterrence, simply, is the use of punishment to prevent illegal behavior and may be directed toward two different populations.  Schmalleger (2006) would agree with Foucault that offenders should be severely punished to prevent them from repeating their crimes in the future; this is known as specific deterrence, a practice that embodies the principle most American families use in disciplining. When people engage in undesirable behavior, they are punished. This is repeated whenever the behavior occurs until the punishment is associated with the act. To avoid the punishment, the individual learns to refrain from the act. Punishing criminals has the same purpose. Strict punishment serves as a warning sign of what will happen to anyone who commits an illegal act. In this way, the criminal act should have a restraining effect on the entire American society.