Academic journal article Social Justice

Fatal Injustice: Rampant Punitiveness, Child Prisoner Deaths, and Institutionalized Denial-A Case for Comprehensive Independent Inquiry in England and Wales

Academic journal article Social Justice

Fatal Injustice: Rampant Punitiveness, Child Prisoner Deaths, and Institutionalized Denial-A Case for Comprehensive Independent Inquiry in England and Wales

Article excerpt

Introduction

"MASS IMPRISONMENT" (Garland, 2001a:5), "CARCERAL HYPERINFLATION" (Miller, 2001: 158), and "hyper-incarceration" (Simon, 2000: 285) are terms more or less routinely applied to analyses of contemporary criminal justice policy and practice in the United States. Paradoxically, modern America, the "land of the free," is a place where a "society of captives" (Ibid.) occupies "the new iron cage" (Garland, 2001b: 197). However, the creation of a "prison nation" (Herivel and Wright, 2003), a phenomenon described as "Lockdown" (Parenti, 1999), bears little, if any, relation to the actual volume or severity of crime. Rather, it is steeped in the cynical (re)politicization of crime, in populist posturing, in crudely competitive electioneering exchanges, and, ultimately, in essentialist "zero tolerance" policymaking (Tonry, 2004).

Similar processes have also been evident in the United Kingdom (U.K.)--more particularly England and Wales (1)--since the early 1990s. In 1993, for example, John Major (prime minister at the time) proclaimed that "society" should "condemn more" and "understand less" and Tony Blair (later to become the first New Labour prime minister) repeatedly expressed his determination to be "tough on crime" (cited in Goldson, 1997). Since that time, the adult and child (2) prison populations in England and Wales have multiplied exponentially (Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2006; Youth Justice Board, 2004; 2006a, b). Further, in 1998 (following the election of the first New Labour government in the U.K. the previous year) Jack Straw, home secretary at the time, referred to a "special relationship" with the United States, whereby "the two governments are learning more from one another all the time, there is now a deep ideological relationship" (cited in Pitts, 2000: 3). Implementing repressive criminal "justice" policies through processes of trans-Atlantic "policy transfer" is, apparently, a direct legacy of the "relationship" (Jones and Newburn, 2004; Muncie, 2002). In the shadows of the mass imprisonment "social experiment" in the U.S. (Wright, cited in Silverstein, 2003: 1), successive New Labour governments have imposed a "Lockdown" of their own in England and Wales and, currently, there are no prospects of abatement.

Situated within the wider context of Anglo-American penal expansion, this article focuses more sharply upon the implications of "Lockdown" for child prisoners in England and Wales. It is argued that a comprehensive independent inquiry is required to investigate the politics, policies, and practices that have given rise to the incarceration of growing numbers of children, at younger ages and for longer periods (Goldson, 2005). Such an inquiry is perhaps the only appropriate means of investigating the human costs of re-penalization, the damage and harm endured by young prisoners, and, ultimately, the fatal injustice that cost 29 children their lives in state prisons and private jails in England and Wales between July 1990 and September 2005.

Rampant Punitiveness

A vulgar rhetoric of "toughness" and a criminal "justice" agenda intolerant of "excuses" (Home Office, 1997) have defined the coordinates of a "new punitiveness" in England and Wales (Goldson, 2002a). Major strategic policy documents routinely comprise platforms upon which senior ministers proffer caricatured dichotomies: "decent citizens" and "offenders" (Blair, 2004: 5), "wrongdoers" and the "law-abiding" (Reid, 2006: 3), and express commitments to "protect the innocent" and "pursue the guilty" (Blunkett at al., 2004: 7). Faced with "some of the most fundamental challenges of our time," or so it is claimed, the primary mission is to "secure the freedoms we enjoy in the face of terrorists and criminals who seek to exploit them" (Home Office, 2004: 1). Decontextualized binary constructions and the facile conflation of global "terrorism" and domestic "crime" have penetrated official policy discourse. …

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