Punishment has gone to a long way from becoming a measure of crime control alone (Durkheim, 1900/1983; Garland, 1990 cited in Ruddell 2005). It is no longer seen as merely a way of punishing criminals, or a means of inciting fear in the citizenry, so that they may not involve themselves in crime. Several theories can account for a country’s ideology, policies, and practices of punishment and criminal justice processes.
These theories differ primarily because of the discrepancies in the kinds and degrees that variables affect the punishment framework and policies for every nation. This can be further made complicated because some sociologists believe that “translation” between different cultures is not appropriate (Parekh, 2000 cited in Melossi, 2001, p.404).
Many variables affect the understanding of the purpose of punishment, particularly since crime is influenced by factors such as the nation’s history, politics, geography, economy, and culture (Reichel, 2002 cited in Ruddell 2005). Furthermore, this coincides with what Garland (1990) pointed out that there is no single set of factors that can account for a complete understanding of punishment, and punishment is (not)-simply a complex social construct (cited in Ruddell ,2005, p.8).
In this paper firstly I will explore and analyze the social and political context of crime, and assess the theoretical frameworks that form the notions and policies that deal with punishment, and particularly with imprisonment. Afterwards, I will focus on the comparison of Italy and the United States with an emphasis to their political, social, cultural and religion context.
As Mellosi (2001) mentioned in his study the Cultural embeddedness of social control, these two societies (Italy and US) would seem to place a very different emphasis on importance of punishment- a difference that has become notable in terms of imprisonment rates in the last 25 years or so. This is more true when takes into consideration the international comparisons, which show that crimes rates in US are not much higher than the Italian crime rates, apart from crimes of violence and especially homicides that contribute to a very small percentage of imprisonment (Mellosi, 2001, p.407). These nations however, are chosen for comparison, because of the distinct differences and similarities they have, with how they see and operate their imprisonment policies.
Several theories account for the philosophies of punishment, such as managerialism, human rights, political gender quality and community. Nowadays, populism punitiveness is also becoming pervasive as the framework of punishment (Matthews, 2005, p.176). Cohen (1994) defined punitiveness as possessing coercion, moralism, and pain infliction on individual by a third party (cited in Matthews 2005, p.178). The movement towards punitiveness and populism is seen as an evolution of the before mentioned theoretical frameworks (Matthews, 2005, p.176).
Garland (2001) highlighted that the concept of punitiveness has shifted from the elite class to that of the public, because the latter is dissatisfied with the purposes of punishment (Matthews, 2005, p.176). It is a neo-liberal movement from apathy to intolerance, confirmed Pratt (2002 cited in Matthews 2005, p.176). How this populist punitiveness takes specific forms in the actual nations and communities where they operate can be studied through the punishment methods they employ. On the other hand, Melander (2005) asserted that political gender equality affects imprisonment also. This means that gender analysis, aside from structural and cultural analysis, can help understand the dynamics and relationships that bear the notions, laws, and practices of punishment.
Modernization theories, in addition, put forward that urbanization of traditional agrarian communities, with low levels of formal social control, produce role confusion, social chaos, and enhanced crime rates (Shelley 1981; Neuman & Berger 1988 cited in Ruddell 2005, p.11). As a result, the government lets go of conventional methods of law, and initiates new punishment rules, such as imprisonment (Black, 1993 cited in Ruddell 2005, p.11). In addition, Rudell’s study (2005) affirms that social disorder and imprisonment are related (p. 21).
The US government also uses crime as a legitimate cause for its existence. These are only some of the theories that propose that punishment is function of social order and control. This social order can be used for democratic and authoritarian and other types of governments, which can greatly affect what imprisonment is for (Ruddell, 2005, p.21).
With reference to Mauer, imprisonment is caused by sentencing policies that have developed with less concern for pardon, and more for extreme punishment, particularly in the last thirty years (cited in Grady 2002), as promulgated by the political, economic, and cultural realities specific of each nation. Simon stressed that it is society’s fear, which compelled the organizational resolution to criminality (cited in Grady 2002). Social control is a strong force in the punitiveness applied by countries (Melossi, 2001, p.405). This control, Melossi (2001) argued, is a combination of cultural, political and economic factors. The Social theory consists of the communication that takes shape through the dialectic relationship between notions and practice (Melossi, 2001).
Punishment, in this context, belongs to the moral practice of the society, which is affected also by its history as shared with other histories, and the predominant culture (Melossi, 2001, p.405). Punishment is also viewed as integral to social control, wherein the elite utilizes incarceration to control the unemployed underclass, as suggested by the Rusche-Kirchheimer theory (Ruddell 2005, p.10). Social control is rather defined then as part of the cultural orientation of the country, such as the prevailing religion (Melossi, 2001, p.403). Melossi (2001) also stresses that comparison among cultures is better than translation across cultures, which is simply sociological imperialism (p.404). Meanings are deeply embedded in the culture, and that culture alone holds the key to comprehending and appreciating the meaning of their viewpoints, attitudes, and behaviour (Melossi, 2001, p.404).
In Italy, for instance, imprisonment is affected by its paternalistic Catholic culture (Melossi, 2001, p.412). This culture is embedded in the penal policies of Italian society (Melossi, 2001, p.405). This can be contrasted with the Protestantism culture in the US. Melossi (2001) argues, however, that the religious factor of imprisonment in these countries does not necessarily lead to causal determinism, but rather are used as tools of analysis for understanding the orientation of imprisonment present in their societies. The rigid Catholic religious beliefs in Italy moulded a soft authoritarian approach to imprisonment. Laws are in place, but the attitude in implementation is very loose, as compared to the US. For example, organized crime in Southern Italy benefits from the lax application of punishment (Melossi, 2001, p.413), which manifests the indulgent personality of the Italian justice system.
There is more toleration for moral or social issues in Italy, though there is great discourse and more punishment over matters of politics and religion (Melossi, 2001, p.412). This has been criticized as a backward justice and penal system, which also means that Foucault is right in his book, Discipline and Punish (1977, pp.257-292 cited in Melossi, 2001, p.413). Foucault stresses that the failure of the prison system is evident in its inability to transform “illegalities” into “useful delinquency” (cited in Melossi 2001, p.413). Thus, imprisonment failed to be predictive and affective of changed behaviour among criminals. The failure to do so undermines its long-term purpose in the society, which is crime reduction and reformation.
Melossi (2001), furthermore, stated that this paternalistic imprisonment system of Italians could be contrasted to that of North America, which has stringent penal repression (p.413). Still some criticize North American imprisonment as harsh and extreme, even if its purpose is to decrease crime rates (Tonry cited in Grady 2002). Some note that there are other forms of punishment, which can lead to less repeats of crimes or other abuses, which can be more effective in lessening criminal behaviour. This is truer for the youth delinquency imprisonment rates, which differ across countries and regions.
Lewis summarized the power of politics in imprisonment by saying that politics determines the length of imprisonment (cited in Jamieson 2005, p.66). This highlights the major role that legislators play in the kind of imprisonment policies being implemented vis-ï¿½-vis the crimes committed. Zimring argued also that politics heightened the numbers of Americans being incarcerated (cited in Grady 2002). This is because the commonly imprisoned lack political power, such as minorities, blacks and Hispanics (Ruddell, 2005; Sutton, 2004;). It is considered as the “disproportionate minority confinement,” which is palpable for the US (Ruddell 2005, p.11; Melossi 2001, p.407).
Penal laws also affect imprisonment terms. For example, PCC (S) A 2000 S116 states that the court can charge the offender to being sentenced longer, for crime committed before the SED or expiry date (Stone, 2006). This law extends the stay of prisoners, or gives the courts additional power in lengthening imprisonment time of offenders. Since penal laws are made by legislators, this reinforces the decision making power of politicians in shaping the “contracts” of the punishment system, specifically the laws that affect incarceration. Thus, when one considers why there are so many prisoners, it can also be traced back to the laws that define the cases that merit incarceration.
Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner, in addition, through the use of extensive cross-national data, forwarded a “legitimation of violence” hypothesis (cited in Melossi, 2004, p.8). According to this hypothesis, “exemplary” actions done by the governments, such as the giving capital punishment and holding wars, sends the message to the society that “violence is indeed a way by which differences and conflicts can be resolved, thereby legitimizing it” (cited in Melossi, 2004, p.8).
Governments should then be representatives of true “moral entrepreneurs,” whose stricter “official” forms of legitimation would create higher rates of violent crime, murder and other heinous crimes (Archer and Gartner, 1984, cited in Melossi 2004, p.8). Thus, where there is more violence in the political measures, there can also be responding increases in violence in society (Melossi, 2004, p.8). Violent punitiveness may lead to increase in violent crime rates, instead of reduction (Melossi, 2004, p.8). This is evident in the US and their strict, some say violent penal codes, which may be leading to higher violent crime rates.
Understandably, politics is not the only factor that affects imprisonment, as other political factors may exist, as the paternalism factor apparent in Italy. The political context for Italy is derived from paternalism, which has not proved to be the most effective form of punishment also, because indulgence leads to lenience and lenience leads to lack of reformative forms of punishment. Furthermore, this paternalism is extended to other forms, with the prior existence of socialist parties and their collaboration with the Fascist police that made the police more lenient to political members, who break the law (Canali, 2000, p.36.). Therefore, specific political context can be highly anchored still to other factors, which may or may not be entirely political.
Greenberg (1999), on the other hand, studied criminality and punishment in developed countries and resolved that economic variables are not enough to explain the characteristics of the incarcerated, and he suggested that political factors be also studied (cited in Ruddell, 2005, p.9). Melossi (2001) underscored the importance of cultural embeddedness in forming punitive measures. He stated that culture is a particular function for a Catholic-dominated country like Italy, which contributes to its lenient punishment, which involves imprisonment system.
Today, there is a wide difference in imprisonment rates in Western Europe, which ranges from 50 to 100 per 100,000, while in the United States; the rate is now 500 per 100,000 (Melossi, 2001, p.406). Also, ratio to males to females and percentage of minorities can be almost the same for most prison systems, especially rate of women incarcerated in the US are the same as in Italy (Melossi 2001, p.406). What is different in their rates is the minority imprisonment rate, which is higher for the US than for Italy (Mellosi, 2001, p.407). This indicates that though the US may have stricter penal codes than Italy, it is not enough to reduce the imprisonment rates of minorities.
This suggests also that the structural types of discourse that account for the explanation of punishment is not enough to enumerate the internal variations of society that affect imprisonment rates (Mellosi, 2001, p.407). For the US and Italy, the differences in penal policies can be understood by studying the differences in their religions, traditions, and their history (Mellosi, 2001, p.407). Italy, for example, has a much more homogeneous culture (Mellosi, 2001, p.407), and this can demonstrate the lower minority imprisonment rates. For the Protestant North American, nevertheless, their society has a stronger hold on their fundamental cultural attributes, which does not have a “place for the uncertain authoritarian and deeply conservative tolerance of Catholicism. Right or wrong, white or black who is or is perceived to be on the wrong side of law should be punished” (Mellosi, 2001, p.411).
In addition, the US had a higher propensity to punish those who perpetrate crimes, which is still an American notion up to now (Mellosi, 2001, p.412). As an effect, imprisonment rates in the US increased, since the 1970s, which showed an imprisonment of 100 per 100,000 up to 500 for the same number (Mellosi, 2001, p.412). The high rates of imprisonment have been commonly called the “great confinement” (Beckett, 1997, cited in Mellosi, 2001, p.412). Italy, on the other hand, had lower rates, ranging from 50 to 90 per 100,000, with almost very few incarcerated minors (Mellosi, 2001, p.412).
Pavarini (1994) asserts that this is made possible because of differences in application of penal codes for the individual and collective levels (Mellosi, 2001, p.412). For the individual level, they get mild penal applications, while the collective gets more clemency (Pavarini, 1994, cited in Mellosi 2001, p.412). The rhetoric itself of Italy is not as strong as it wanted to be, that is a sharp contrast to the US rhetoric of self-government in penal laws (Mellosi, 2001, p.412). The Italian rhetoric of law and order may just be political machinery, but not actualised, also because the organized crime in the South already holds power and influence, while the controllable North is seemingly stabilized by the backwardness of the penal codes in the South (Mellosi, 2001, p.413).
The studies mentioned, help understand the complexities of imprisonment, as it is not a separate and discrete phenomenon, but rather an integral part of the social, cultural, economic, and political context of every nation and the region they belong to. Religious traditions deeply affect the cultural aspect of penal policies and measures. The strictness of deep-seated Protestantism is different from the catholic paternalism, while at the same time the experience of evangelic clemency is not the same as Roman tradition of lenience (Mellosi, 2001, p.418). Furthermore, there is still an interrelationship between social, economic, and political relationships and conditions in the formation and evolution of penal codes for Italy and the US (Mellosi, 2001, p.418).
For now, imprisonment may seem the most appealing form of punitiveness, because it can be an immediate form of punishment, and containment. However, later on, as prison compounds fill up, and as crime rates reduce or increase, social studies on imprisonment and punishment as a whole will contribute to alternative methods of containment and punishment. Italy may develop stricter penal codes, but that would indicate radical changes in their culture that would radically depart from the lenient cultural beliefs on punishment (Mellosi, 2004).
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