Spiked! had an article about prison smoking bans earlier this year.

Of course, if prisoners were able to enjoy every freedom they enjoyed in the outside world, then incarceration would make a poor deterrent against criminal behaviour. But forcing prisoners to give up smoking is nonetheless paternalistic and unfair. It’s an unnecessary, and cruel, punishment. It treats inmates like children to be supervised rather than adults who have committed crimes. The ban strips prisoners of one of the few activities they can legally participate in to relieve stress and pass the time. It also creates a new prohibition for already overstretched prison staff to monitor.

I was glad to see someone using the exact same words I did in my letter to my MP: Prisoners are being forced to give up smoking.

In my letter I didn’t make either the point that this was additional punishment, or that it treated prisoners like children. I perhaps didn’t do so because I think that Tobacco Control wants to punish smokers, and wants to treat people like children. So if I had pointed it out, they would have said, “Wonderful! That’s exactly what we want!”

The same response might have been made by them to the point that if prisoners enjoyed the same freedoms as they would outside the prison, prison would not act as a deterrent against crime? “Wonderful! That’s exactly what we intend.”

But what is the point of prison? As I’ve seen it, a prison primarily simply removes criminals from the world outside, and thereby reduces the amount of crime taking place there. You collect all the bad apples, and you keep them all together in one barrel.

But this approach isn’t one of deterrence. If you wish to deter people from going to prison, surely you should make prisons as horrible places as possible? Shouldn’t you maybe keep prisoners chained up the whole time in cold, damp cells, with a meagre diet of stale bread and water? Wouldn’t that make prison into a much more powerful deterrent against crime?

In my approach, the prisoners are simply removed from the wider society. They are well-treated. My prison would hardly be any deterrent at all. But I think that the idea behind deterrence is that criminals make rational calculations balancing the potential gain from some crime (e.g. robbing a bank) against the possible loss (e.g. spending several years in prison). But do criminals make such rational calculations? Are they just like businessmen weighing up the likely gains and losses from one business enterprise or other?

Perhaps many of them are, and they are more or less indistinguishable from other law-abiding businessmen. Perhaps they wear well-cut suits, and have offices with secretaries and computers and files. Bernie Madoff floats into mind.

But aren’t a great many criminal acts crimes of passion or opportunity, in which no rational calculations are being made? The man who punches somebody in the face, immediately after he’s been taken a swing at, is someone who is reacting spontaneously, without prior planning. The same also might be true of rapists, suddenly aroused by a passing woman. And the casual thief who notices an unattended bag in an airport, and picks it up, may also be reacting spontaneously to opportunity. If such people perform rational calculations, it’s most likely after the act, rather than before it. And are such people, who are reacting spontaneously to the circumstances they find themselves in, going to be deterred by the rational prospect of prison?

A further consideration, which I set out in my letter to my MP, was that if prisons are also supposed to reform prisoners, and make them into law-abiding citizens, is it likely that maltreatment of them could ever achieve such an aim? Isn’t forcing prisoners to stop smoking any different from forcing people to part with their wallets? Isn’t it doing to them what they did to others, and which resulted in them being sent to prison in the first place?

And if reform is deemed impossible (once a bad apple, always a bad apple?), why not just execute all criminals, on the grounds that once the rot has set in, it will only get worse? In Britain, at one time, more or less exactly this actually happened.

And aren’t a great many of the things for which prisoners are sent to prison not really crimes at all? For example, Al Capone was a bootlegger in prohibition America, transporting and selling alcohol that people wanted to buy. Is that any different from selling them bread or cars or houses? Isn’t the same true of all other drugs, like cannabis and opium and cocaine? What’s wrong, furthermore, with prostitution, if the women partaking in it do so of their own free will? And the same with gambling? Isn’t it the case that it is just that some people disapprove of other people smoking and drinking and gambling and whoring? And these people can also disapprove of people doing more or less anything else – including holding knives and forks in the wrong hands.

Prisons seem anyway to be relatively new social institutions (much like psychiatric hospitals). Was there some sudden upsurge in crime (and madness) at some point in the past that necessitated their construction?

I have other problems with prisons. In Idle Theory, crime is something that reduces social idleness and freedom. But sending prisoners to prison reduces their freedom (and hence also their idleness). So we respond to one loss by compounding it with another loss. What good is that to anyone?

I ask all these questions because they’re ones that bubble up when I start thinking about prisons. I have plenty more of them. And I don’t have answers to most of them.

About Frank Davis

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18 Responses to Prison

  1. garyk30 says:

    “For example, Al Capone was a bootlegger in prohibition America, transporting and selling alcohol that people wanted to buy. Is that any different from selling them bread or cars or houses?”

    What Capone did was illegal, the other was legal.

    Besides, Capone was sent to prison for tax evasion, not for selling booze.

  2. Tony says:

    A quote from Skrabanek’s “Death of Humane Medicine”:
    I don’t smoke nor drink. I don’t stay out late and don’t sleep with girls. My diet is healthy and I take regular exercise. All this is going to change when I get out of prison.

    The upshot being that these bans will greatly strengthen the link between smoking and freedom.

  3. Tony says:

    O/T Just seen this. But I don’t speak German and the online translation is confusing so I can’t vouch for the truth of it.
    “Good news from Austria. ‘In health negotiations, the FPÖ insists on a repeal of smoking bans. Concerning…

    The FPO won 26% in the recent election and may well end up in a coalition government.,_2017

    • smokingscot says:

      Many thanks for that; lousy day turned on its head!

      Checks out via another source; they do indeed demand the smoking ban in leisure facilities be repealed.

      Seems there will be a big debate on Austrian TV tonight about this.

      Just checked the weather for Vienna and it’s shutting down for what may well be one of the harshest winters for several years.

      However the reason why I’m slightly more buoyant is perhaps it’ll give more backbone to outfits like UKIP. I know the new leader wants to go back to their 2015 manifesto, but to do that he has to convince the turncoats who brought out the “ban the burka and one in one out” crap manifesto.

      Stick to what matters to their supporters and don’t be scared to defend smoking rooms. All they’ll lose ain’t worth spit.

  4. sackersonwp says:

    Bullying, beatings and forcible buggery are not judicial sentences, only the loss of freedom, and prisons should be reformed. Also as you say, many prisoners are ill-educated and/or suffer from mental health issues, not to mention drug habits etc. They should either come out better than they went in, or completely broken. I don’t go for the latter – at least, not until banksters and other clever white-collar rats get the same treatment.

  5. Tony says:

    Sorry Frank, I have a comment sitting, smoking in your dungeon. One too many links at lunchtime I guess.

  6. Donald says:

    The prisons, the psychiatric hospitals and the workhouses were mostly built around the same time in the 1830’s. With the intent of sweeping inconvenient poor people off the streets. It would appear to have been a matter of chance which one you got put into.

  7. waltc says:

    And why not also write to whatever Ministry is in charge of this and whoever your MP forwarded your letter to and got an unsatisfactory answer from? Why not think like Harley and bombard them from every angle in your arsenal including the real vs crap science? And how reinstating tobacco would make life easier for guards (better a little ets than a shiv in the back or a riot to quell, eh?) And you might then also remind them of the rules for POWs in the Geneva Convention:

    Part 1, Article 26: “The use of tobacco shall be permitted.”
    Article 28: says tobacco, along with necessities like soap, “must be available”

  8. waltc says:

    PS. In response to Joe L’s post on yet more benefits of alcohol and the freedom to discover them, the American Cancer Society apparently wants to shut that down, dismissing all benefits as questionable but trying to assert its carcinogenicity trumps all

    • Joe L. says:

      In this article (it’s definitely not a study, even though it’s cleverly published in a journal in order to resemble one), the American Society of Clinical Oncology declares one of their “strategies” of reducing alcohol consumption to be, “increase alcohol taxes and prices.”

      Exactly what place does the American Society of Clinical Oncology have in dictating taxes or prices on anything? This is the problem we have with tobacco–government regulations and taxes are being dictated by private institutions via lobbyists in order to further their agendas.

      They even dedicated an entire section of this prohibitionist hit piece to the recent pseudoscientific “theory” that tobacco and alcohol “synergistically” (read: “magically”) combine forces to increase the risk of cancers more than either substance is claimed to on its own (emphasis mine):

      Impact of Smoking in Combination With Alcohol Consumption

      Some malignancies are causally linked to both alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking; in some cases, an established synergistic interaction between alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking exists. This means that, in cancers for which both alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking are causal factors, the cancer risks in those who are both alcohol drinkers and cigarette smokers are much larger than the risks seen for those who only drink alcohol or only smoke cigarettes. Specific upper aerodigestive tract cancers provide the strongest examples of robust synergistic interactions between alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking. A pooled analysis of 17 case-control studies identified a potent interaction between alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking in cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx, and a review identified evidence of robust interaction in 22 of 24 published studies on oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, and esophageal cancers. Despite the clear presence of synergistic interaction, the biologic underpinnings of the interaction between alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking are not well understood.

  9. Mick Walker says:

    “Crime” could be just defined as breaking the rules. It’s not intrinsically “wicked”.
    Most crime is just natural behaviour, the equivalent is commonplace in most other animals.
    Theft, violence, unwanted sexual approaches, deception.
    Criminology seems to regard crime as aberrant behaviour. It isn’t.

    Our (very successful) civilization depends heavily on minimizing crime, though.
    Three steps to solving a problem –
    1 Acknowledge that there is a problem. (Done).
    2 Define the problem.
    3 Solve the problem.

    Step 3 may not be easy, but it’s impossible until step 2 is done.

    Petty crime is one of the few career options where you don’t need qualifications, no training, interviews, or even any aptitude. Prisons are mostly full of failures. The successful criminals are under-represented in prisons.

    The more rules there are, the more criminals there will be.
    People think that making something illegal will stop it happening.
    It also increases the number of criminals,

    Rules are necessary. But they should be kept to a minimum.
    That’s my preferred approach.
    I am of course in a minority, though possibly not among Frank’s readers? :-)

    Always remember step 2!

  10. smokingscot says:

    Article about a lady fighting on behalf of people who get lung cancer. She’s saying about 1 in 8 are never smokers – and that figure’s growing.

    Yet because it’s seen as a smoker’s disease they don’t get nearly enough funding.

    Something us lot have been aware of for yonks, so all strength to her arm and h/T to the newspaper that published it.

  11. Pingback: Why Am I Not Surprised? | Frank Davis

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