History of Punishment Critically Assess Essay

  • Length: 13 pages
  • Sources: 9
  • Subject: Criminal Justice
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #95135347

Excerpt from Essay :

Too little, for what matters is that he knows he is being watched and too much, because he has no need in fact of being so (Alford, 2000).

Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible in that the inmate would constantly have before him the tall outline of the central tower from which he was watched. Unverifiable in that the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at or not, but he must be sure that there is always the possibility. In order to make the attendance or nonattendance of the guard unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow, Bentham visualized not only venetian blinds on the windows of the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions that intersected the hall at right angles and, zigzag opening instead of doors. For even the slightest noise, or gleam of light, would betray the presence of the guard. "The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheral ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen" (Alford, 2000).

The Panopticon was an important mechanism, for it automated and de-individualized power. Power has its principle in a certain concentrated distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes and not so much in the person. In this case it was an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which people were caught up. The ceremonies, the rituals and the marks by which the monarch's excess power was manifested were useless. There was machinery that assured dissymmetry, disequilibrium and dissimilarity. As a result, it did not matter who exercised the power. Any person, taken at random, could operate the machine. The Panopticon was a great machine and no matter what one used it for it produced uniform effects of power (Alford, 2000).

Foucault said unvarying supervision and forced discipline broke the will of the criminal and made him into a passive body and the passive body was easy to control by people in power. Prison's major goal was to decrease crime by punishing the criminal. It was also thought that prisons should deter others from committing crimes. According to Foucault, prisons did not meet this goal; in fact he thought they made criminals worse. Foucault believed the prison system was not a system designed to decrease crime by punishing criminals and deterring others. He believed the prison system instead functioned very effectively at accomplishing other goals. The prison system allowed the upper class to carry on the subjugation of the lower class. The prison system efficiently incarcerated, isolated and economically controlled the most dynamic members of the lower class. The nonstop cycle of isolation and supervision rendered this most volatile group both politically and socially harmless. The discipline of the prison system spilled out into all of society causing a struggle for each member of society. People either struggled and resisted the discipline of society and were labeled as criminal or the submitted to it and lost their own identity. For Foucault the losing of ones own identity to the discipline of the state was the real crime (McGaha, n.d.).

Foucault sought to look at punishment in its social context, and to see how altering power relations affected punishment. He began by looking at the situation before the eighteenth century, when public execution and corporal punishment were key punishments, and torture was used in most criminal investigations. Punishment was ritual and directed at the prisoner's body. It was a ceremony in which the spectators were important. Public execution re-established the power and authority of the King. Popular literature recounted the details of executions, and the public was greatly involved in them (Discipline and Punish, 2011).

The eighteenth century saw a variety of calls for reform of punishment. The reformers, according to Foucault, were not motivated by a concern for the well-being of prisoners. Rather, they wanted to make authority operate more resourcefully. They proposed a theater of punishment, in which a multifaceted system of representations and signs were displayed publicly. Punishments correlated obviously to their crimes, and served as an obstruction to lawbreaking (Discipline and Punish, 2011).

Prison was not yet imaginable as a penalty. Three new form of penalty helped to surmount resistance to it. Nonetheless, great differences existed between this kind of coercive institution and the early, punitive city. The path for the prison was laid by the developments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the disciplines. Discipline was thought to be a series of methods by which the body's operations could be controlled. Discipline worked by intimidating and arranging the people's movements and their experience of space and time. This was achieved by devices such as timetables and military drills, and the process of exercise. Through discipline, individual people were created out of a mass. Disciplinary power had three elements: hierarchical surveillance, stabilizing judgment and assessment. Surveillance and the gaze were key instruments of power. By these processes, and through the human sciences, the notion of the norm was developed (Discipline and Punish, 2011).

Disciplinary power was exemplified by Bentham's Panopticon. Institutions were modeled on the panopticon and begin to spread throughout society. Prison developed from this idea of discipline. It aimed both to deprive the person of his freedom and to reform him at the same time. The penitentiary was the next development. It combined the prison with the workshop and the hospital. The penitentiary replaced the prisoner with the delinquent. The delinquent was created as a reaction to changes in popular illegality, in order to marginalize and control popular behavior. Disapproval of the failure of prisons missed the point, because failure was part of its very nature. The process by which failure and operation were combined was the carceral system. The goal of prison, and of the carceral system, was to produce delinquency as a means of arranging and controlling crime. From this viewpoint, they succeeded. The prison was part of a network of power that spread throughout society, and which was controlled by the rules of strategy alone. Calls for its elimination failed to recognize the depth at which it was embedded in modern society, or even its real function (Discipline and Punish, 2011).

The ruling class placed a brand on the delinquent class posing them as a detached group from the normal lower class. This permitted for the separation of the most dynamic group from the rest of the masses of demoralized, further restricting the likelihood the lowest class could shape social change. To this was added an enduring attempt to impose a highly specific grid on the common perception of delinquents: to present them as close by, everywhere and everywhere to be feared. The ruling class accomplished this through the newspapers and printed novels about crime (McGaha, n.d.).

Foucault believed the dominant class used the delinquent class as a means of profiting themselves. Delinquency was a means for the illegality of the dominant groups. The setting up of prostitution networks in the nineteenth century was characteristic of this. Police checks and checks on the prostitutes' health, their regular stay in prison, the significant organization in the prostitution setting, and its control by delinquent-informers, all made it possible to recuperate by a series of mediators, the enormous profits from a sexual pleasure. Setting a price for pleasure, in creating a profit from repressed sexuality and in collecting this profit, the delinquent environment was in collusion with a self-interested Puritanism who was an illicit agent operating over illegal practices (McGaha, n.d.).

Foucault related how the penal system with its long arms affects society as a whole. Foucault believed other governmental programs, such as welfare and new educational methods, expanded from the penal system. He called this development of disciplinary control the carceral archipelago. It created a whole society of passive bodies submitting to the will of the state. It has been seen in the penal justice, that the prison transformed the punitive procedure into a penitentiary technique; the carceral archipelago transported this technique from penal institutions to the whole social body (McGaha, n.d.).

Foucault distinguishes the changes in punishment, by the State upon its criminals, between the 18th and the 19th Century. The transition from monarch power to disciplinary power is shown in the figure of the criminal, who is first tortured upon the scaffold and then confined in the prison institution. Yet, the power relations, positional locations, points of application, and methods utilized against the criminal have in general been reduced to the institution of the prison and its approach of coercion. For Foucault, the prison represented the move from monarch power to disciplinary power, but these strategies of coercion were not unique to prison institutions. The strategies of the prison were present in the strategies used by the military, by hospitals, by schools, and in factories. The prison, thus, represented a system of…

Cite This Essay:

"History Of Punishment Critically Assess" (2012, January 12) Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

"History Of Punishment Critically Assess" 12 January 2012. Web.20 January. 2017. <

"History Of Punishment Critically Assess", 12 January 2012, Accessed.20 January. 2017,