Trigger Warnings: Rape, Paedophilia
I’m not really elaborate on the fact that the current prison system (either in the US, or – basically – everywhere else) is broken and walk on its head. If you want to contemplate the disaster, you can watch Prison Valley, get facts from OIP or read testimony made by, basically, every inmates, their family, their friends about what the prison is doing to them.
I could tells you what the incarceration of my father for paedophilia did to me, how I had to hide it, to lie every single days to basically everyone, to pretend it did not happens for the sole purpose of surviving through middle school, and that it didn’t solve anything, Because he got convicted a second time for similar crimes years later. You’ll notice that neither I, my sisters or my mother have been found guilty of anything, but still, we paid a price. For justice.
I will not argue that prison is the worst solution to any problems. At best, you put people on hold and free them, expecting them to behave when they’ll get out. At worst, it’s a political tool used to criminalize populations and build resentment upon some populations (yes, it’s a tool used for power to keep people in check) while creating more sociopaths, storing them away in inhumane conditions, and forcing them to work – and so destroying jobs outside of jail.
Prison should not exist. Even for serial rapists, paedophile, killers, abusers of all sorts. If you’re only answer as a society is to store them away, in a dark room, and hopping they’ll get better you’re delusional. I do believe people can change, but they need help, acceptance, and an possibility of failure.
The thing is, prison is intricately mixed with the notion of justice. We tend to think we deserve justice, but I’m not sure we really think about what it means. The justice system, as its currently implemented in most part of the world, is a punitive one. The principles behind it is that if you do a wrong to someone, you should pay for it, one way or one another. You should not pay to the victim, but to the society.
Basically, it’s the biblical principle of the Talion’s Law: an eye for an eye, with interests. Those interests exist to dissuade further wrong to be done and because the perceived loss might be above the material loss. When it come to non material wrongs, it gets complicated.
The justice system tries to determine what is the impact of the wrongdoing, what are the personalities of victims and perpetrators to find an appropriate sanction. Basically the process of justice tries to evaluate the cost of a human life, which is an extremely capitalist view. The life of a worker, or of a woman worth less than the one of a CEO for instance. That’s why stealing and destruction of property is so harshly sanctioned, while rape or harassment of the work place is rarely sanctioned.
We deserve nothing
But you probably all know that, I’m just writing down some ideas on a text file. The thing I want to get too is that we deserve nothing. We do not deserve justice. It sound harsh, I know, but when you look at it, all the justice system is build around punishing.
And if you want to not act randomly, because you know, you’re a sophisticated society built on principle from the XVIII° centuries. Principles formed by white people of the bourgeoisie, then you need to defines what should be punished and what should not. You need to establish what is the norm and to enforce it. You need to make sure everyone understand what are the personal costs of transgressing this norm, and you need to know who is behaving and who is not. You need to be Santa Claus, knowing all the dirty secrets of every kids, and decides which on will get presents and which one won’t have anything.
You’ll justify it with the Law. The Book Of The Law. We modernised the process since the biblical times (where Moses got high on drugs in a mountain and wrote stuff on marble tablets because he was afraid of losing he’s grasp on power). You’ll enforce it with a dedicated group of people: cops. And then you’ll gave them the power to sort people between good and bad guys. To do that you’ll give them the power of mass and systemic surveillance.
This notion of justice most of people wants requires mass surveillance. And prison. And a norm. And I’m still wondering: do we deserves justice? I tend to believe that, as a member of a society, we deserves nothing. We do not deserves to be happy, to have a good life, and the like. Deserving something means that, inherently, the world in which you live, should give you something.
I think the only thing we deserve, as individual, is the fulfilling of our needs (physiological and/or mental). Not justice, not love, not a family. I could insert here a reference to the Maslow’s pyramid, but the model is a bit simplistic and outdated. I don’t think the notion of justice is a need. The closest thing that would be associated to a need, is the need to be recognised, to be esteemed by other. To live in dignity and respect. And either everyone deserves that, or no one.
As stated before, prison strips individuals of their dignity, of their respect, of their esteemed (by other or by themselves). And I think the notion of justice cannot be dissociated of the notion of prison. As long as you ask for people to be thrown in prison, you’re losing your access to live in dignity.
Where do we go from here
We do not deserve justice, and I think that, in our communities, we really should work on that. Justice is an outdated system used to justify incarceration, mass surveillance and therefor systemic discrimination.
What we need to think of is harm reduction, which is at the core of the Transformative Justice theory. The idea behind harm reduction is to provide communities with tools to help them avoiding harm in the first place, and then reducing the impact of it.
That’s the idea behind collective insurance for instance. A collective effort can help reducing the burden of an accident. It requires to accept the fact that some people might not want to behave, or are not able to. And that you need to have structures to act before something happens. Calling out rapist or aggressors helps to do that, but it deprives the aggressor of the possibility of change. This is a community response to a traumatism. It does not reduces the traumatism of the victim, but it tends to reduce the potential harm that a person can do.
But I think we can go further. Paedophiles for instance are almost universally perceived as monster that should rot in jail for ever because they hurt children by kidnapping them and tying them in a closet making them their sex slaves. Which is as accurate as the depiction of rapist being a stranger that will jump women in the street to rape them and kill them.
In Berlin, a program has been started to help paedophile who did not commit an aggression. You can read about it here and it seems to be successful. They allow paedophile to talk about their issue, to have access to treatment and t manage their life with dignity and without hurting kids. This is not the only program, but a lot of them are targeting offenders (you need to have molested a child to enter some of those program)
Which is a better outcome than sending them to jail, with a so-called obligation of treatment (it did work so well that my father did get back to jail ten years after), or stacking them in prison cells, refusing to deal with them don’t you think?
I have to add that, on a community level, I think this can works well with inside violence, not from harm done by the outside. You deserve dignity, so you should protect yourself against aggression, especially as a community. A neo-nazis entering a self-managed bar is an aggression, so you should gives yourself ways to protect against these violence from outsiders.
I think that the idea of transformative justice is interesting. The idea is to change the society to reduce harm being done, not trying to repair the victims (which is restorative justice) or trying to avenge them and dissuade potential perpetrators (traditional justice).
To ease the way of harm reduction, we – as a society – needs to be able to accept that perpetrators exists and are human being. And that they can change. We need to accept that, most of the time, a victim will endure some traumas that cannot ever be repaired fully – but they can learn to lives with it. We need to accept that, as a society, we have a role to play in aggressions and mitigating them.
One of the way of mitigation is to think of what enables aggressors. What makes them act and why would they think it’s OK to act this way. With the traditional justice system it’s often the perceived impunity. If a cop will not accept the complaint made by a victim, then the aggressor will never ever be confronted to the harm he did, so he will act and probably repeatedly.
Another enabler factor, is the social status of the perpetrator. A well established person, with power over a community – because they’re doing important things – will enable perpetrator to do whatever they want, think about R. Polanski, J. Depp, J. Applebaum for instance.
That is why it is important to avoid social structures which enables people to do harm. Meaning, you should not have only one person in charge of this important thing you need your social group to survive. Every structures which have only one person in charge, will lead to harm. That is why I think it’s important to attributes success and failures on collectives, not on individual among those collective.
We also needs to think about the friends of the perpetrators. Some of them are enablers, some are afraid of consequences if they act against their friends. I also tend to think that stripping a perpetrator of his friends by punishing them for actions he did, will not help those person to come forward and discuss an issue that bother them.
I think that most of the harm reduction process is about communication and speech. Being able to talk about something, without being thrown out of a group is something important. And you should be supported to come forward, you should be accepted for that. If someone does not understand consent for instance, or have trouble with it, this person should be able to talk about it, at least to someone. Yes, it means that you need to keep those discussions private.
Last point, you do not need for everyone to agree to that. But you need to have people who wants to try it and to work on it You should also be careful about not converting them o enabler, that’s why it’s something that needs to be addressed by your communities.
I really think we have an issue with justice. We claim we deserve justice while it’s a tool made by and for the power. Or we tends to mix justice and revenge. I think we should really works on those topics. Protection of whistle blowers, privacy and other related issues cannot occur in a traditional justice system since it is intertwined with mass surveillance, systemic discrimination and the like.
I’m not advocating for vigilantes either, which is a protection from the outside (and yes, you might need, at some point, to have people who can physically resists to adversaries, but that’s a different topic). But really, if we want to reduces aggression made by member of our communities toward other members of this communities, we cannot rely on the notion of justice,