Academic journal article Social Justice

Confronting the Disabling Effects of Imprisonment: Toward Prehabilitation

Academic journal article Social Justice

Confronting the Disabling Effects of Imprisonment: Toward Prehabilitation

Article excerpt

Harm is embedded in every aspect of the prison: from its inception as an institution of punishment and correction to the deprivations of prison and post-prison life. Recognizing that penal harms militate against prisons' rehabilitative aim and capacity, this article applies a therapeutic justice lens to argue for ^rehabilitation as a means of strengthening communities, protecting against criminogenic conditions and the disabling effects of imprisonment, and ultimately reducing the reliance on imprisonment as a supposed crime-reduction strategy.

This article explores two conceptualizations of the prison: in terms of violence and of health. These different conceptualizations illustrate the various ways in which penal harms may be understood as disabling, and they locate the prison on a continuum of which violence and health are intertwined components.

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Your average offender, your stereotypical crim, is a person who is dysfunctional, who is disadvantaged ... He's young, he lives in a certain postcode where if he were to return there would get into trouble invariably, regardless of how much they don't want to, they will. So for a person like that, you've got to habilitate them, you've got to create a pro-social community. (Sam)

disable, verb: to deprive of legal right, qualification, or capacity; to make incapable or ineffective, especially to deprive of physical, moral, or intellectual strength, (www.merriam-webster.com)

IN THE OPENING QUOTE, SAM (SW22), (1) A FORMERLY IMPRISONED POST-release support worker, is describing the typical prisoner: "disabled" (2) initially by life experiences of violence, marginalization, and exclusion in the community, and further by the experience of the violence, marginalization, and exclusion of incarceration. (3) Harm is embedded in every aspect of the prison: from its inception as an institution of punishment and correction, to the deprivations of prison and post-prison life (Clear 1994, Irwin & Owen 2005). On the inside, these include the suffering of "empty time" (Medlicott 1999, 220) and its links to self-harm and suicide; the fear and threat of physical violence and intimidation; the psychological violence of stigma and shame; and the emotional damage to individuals, families, and relationships. On the outside, the effects of institutionalization bring forth men (4) ill-equipped to deal with life in the community and facing homelessness, unemployment, and exclusion. On a broader scale, the racialized, gendered, epistemic, and structured harms of incarceration (Pollack 2012, Scott 2015) manifest in the overrepresentation of formerly enslaved and colonized peoples (Cunneen 2006; see Drake 2013), the "dispossessed and dishonored" (Wacquant 2001, 95), "the destitute, the disreputable and the dangerous, and all those who chafe in the lower regions of social space" (ibid., 382). How then can the prison--shaped and characterized by violence (Brown 2009)--possibly achieve the positive transformation (5) ("rehabilitation") of its inhabitants amid such conditions of abject negativity?

Recognizing that penal harms militate against prisons' rehabilitative aim and capacity, this article applies a therapeutic justice lens to argue for prehabilitation as a means of strengthening communities, protecting against criminogenic conditions and the disabling effects of imprisonment, and ultimately reducing the reliance on imprisonment as a supposed crime reduction strategy. From this perspective, stemming the tide of incarceration is a matter of not only addressing "criminogenic needs" or reducing individual reoffending risk, but also inoculating places and communities to withstand its undertow. This starts with examining the factors that make populations and places susceptible to poor health and, consequently, to penal harms (De Viggiani 2007). Penal harms may be characterized in different ways. This article explores two conceptualizations of the prison: in terms of violence--its physical, emotional, psychological, and relational forms, as well as the symbolic, institutional, structural, and epistemic violence it perpetrates and represents--and of health--prisons as sites of supposed rehabilitation or cure and as "sick places" (De Viggiani 2007,115) of disadvantage, deprivation, disability, and despair, whose iatrogenic conditions bring forth populations further damaged and disabled by the experience of imprisonment. …

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