ON DELIVERY OF PAIN
Most ethical systems in the Western world have as a basic premise that suffering and pain ought to be limited. We live in "soft" cultures. Nurses deliver pain-killers to those who need it in hospitals. Social security systems are there to fence off the worst effects of social troubles. Torture is not highly regarded. Punishment means intentionally delivery of pain. We punish, but with considerable ambivalence. And we try to camouflage what we are doing. In my country, Norway, correctional officers are called "betjenter" which means those who serve other people, cells are called rooms, isolation cells are called single rooms, and the administration running all prisons is called "kriminalomsorgen". "Omsorg" can most easily be translated into some sort of warm care for those who suffer.
But this ambivalence towards punishment gives room for measures to limit that activity. Let me point to five strategies useful in attempts to bring pain delivery under control.
1. A basic tool is honesty in terminology. It is important to make clear what happens; that this suffering is intentional, that professors of penal law are professors in the laws regulating pain delivery, that prisons are not hospitals, that their basic intention is not to help, but to hurt. And this they do.
2. A second major point is to remember that punishments are man or female-maid. There are no "natural" answer to the question; what is the "right" punishment? Punishments are based on decisions. The use of punishment in any society, is a cultural question. What is seen as unwanted behaviour, can be met in several ways. Punishment is only one. This brings us to the third point, which is:
3.... not to let the ideas on crime and punishment depart from the concept of crime, but from the concept of act. Crime does not exist. Acts exists, and then, later, some of these acts are given the meaning of being crimes. The meaning of acts are created through social processes. They are not given by nature. By this type of thinking, we get an opening for considering alternatives to punishment. We get an opening for going back to the original act, and ask for other ways of looking at this act. May be it is more fruitful to look at this particular act as a conflict between parties. But conflicts most often have other solutions than punishments. The usual way of handling conflicts, will be discussions, quarrels, compensations - all these ways we call civil solutions. Compensation might also create pain, but that pain has another quality. It is the inevitable pain of social life when acts are discussed and evaluated, and blame and shame eventually are accepted.
4. Departing from acts, and conflicts, the next natural question is how to create social life which encourages a tendency to see - to perceive - acts as conflicts, not as crimes. The possibilities here are many. Let me just point to the remarkable capacity we have to perceive what happens of unwanted acts inside our families, or in close knit circles of colleagues, friends or neighbours as something different from crime. Unpleasant, silly, ought not to have happened, but not crime. The explanation is probably that we know so much about what here happens, and about the actors, that the formal categories of theft, of violence, of vandalism, does not quite fit. My son might have taken my money, but he is not a thief. I know him, know him so well that the label will not stick. In this perspective, all measures which help people to come close to each other, which help to create primary relations of a broad type, opens for relations with limited use of punishments.
5. But neighbourhoods are damaged in many highly industrialized countries. This means a need for systematic encouragement of neighbourhood-building. Conciliatory board, or boards for advising on how to cope with conflicts, might be a help in this situation. These are not an alternative punishment, but through their civil solutions an alternative to punishment.
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Are there, then, no need for formal punishment, and for prisons in particular? It probably is, in societies of our type. But this brings us back to point three above. We are free to decide on the cultural question of amount of pain-delivery. Prisons are, in a way, representing national cultures. There are no rational reasons for not use flogging or other forms of physical maltreatment within prisons. When we do not use these measures, it is because we think that would be wrong. As members of national states, we would probably also think that such measures represented our nations, and thereby ourselves, in a way we would not like to be represented. As we would be proud of our country by certain accomplishments, we would feel ashamed by others. As flogging. As torture. As having a prison population extremely much higher than any other country supposed to be democratic. As having a prison population where more than half belonged to ethnic minorities. Amount of punishment is not a result of "crime", but a result of type of social organization and of human decisions on delivery of pain.