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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

LOTTER, Casper. Transforming the prison system in South Africa into a public institution with positive peace underlying its values. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.4-2, pp.1235-1259. ISSN 2224-7912.  http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2021/v61n4-2a?.

This exploratory project deals with a topic not common in the subject literature, namely an attempt to break with the traditional approach to the management of crime, which is seen as protracted (Galtung) or deep-rooted (Burton) social conflict. The traditional approach to the phenomenon of crime is to fight violence with violence, which can be described with the well-known military metaphor of waging a trench war against crime. By blending one of the branches of critical criminology, known as peacemaking criminology (the seminal work of Quinney and Pepinsky, in particular), with the broader movement of peace-building in conflict transformation, I argue that fighting violence by peaceful means instead is arguably a worthwhile effort, even though it would require a considerable paradigm shift. The alternative - attempting to combat crime with violence - has failed repeatedly. In this contribution, the question is raised whether or not the prison service as a public institution in South Africa is capable of being transformed from an institution propagating negative peace (in the form of the absence of crime) into one advocating positive peace (in the sense of achieving peace by peaceful means). The idea of positive, as opposed to negative, peace is especially Galtung 's. I contend that South Africa's relatively conservative climate makes the suggestion of de-incarceration unlikely to fall on sympathetic ears, even though the case for decriminalising petty crime (with its unmistakable colonial roots) and alternative models to imprisonment is a compelling one. The South African view is conditioned by issues such as the politicisation of crime, the corruption of our understanding of crime by phenomena such as the prison-industrial complex (PIC) and the profit motive embedded in crime management as it has come to shape the PIC. The endless recycling of ex-offenders in our stigmatising shaming culture is an important, though certainly not exclusive, driver of South Africa's alarmingly high rates of incarceration and recidivism. I argue that the idea of open prisons (as found in some European countries, in particular Finland, and in countries such as Zimbabwe and the Seychelles), may well take root, but that the further-reaching objective of prison abolition should be postponed indefinitely. I am sceptical, along with academic authors from both the East and the West, about the possibility of academic knowledge - even if it is supported by evidence - influencing public policy formulation in the field of crime management. My argument is built around Eugene McLaughlin's contention that mainstream conventional criminology is complicit in the state's uncritical fusing of its electoral mandate with the agenda of Big Business, which causes far more injury and death than so-called conventional crime; and that the influence of academic criminological discourse on the formulation of public policy on crime control and management has waned, while vested interests in criminal justice and the privatisation of the "crime control industry" have in fact filled the gap. Add to these disturbing trends the view of both Colin Leys and Colin Crouch that while government embraces neo-liberal interests, it pays mere lip service to the academic recommendations of experts in the field. My research design, conceptual and theoretical framework, and research question and objectives are meant to stimulate debate along the lines suggested. Central to these proposals is the idea that the transformation of the prison system in South Africa would be feasible only if ex-offenders'basic human needs are realised. It is worth noting that Burton has contributed substantially to the theory that realising basic human needs would prevent prolonged social conflict. Against the background of Pat Carlen's warning that the rehabilitation paradigm has become redundant because of political reluctance to effect fundamental change, concerns over the widening of the so-called "carceral spread" (Foucault) are highlighted in the context of the broad prison transformation discourse in South Africa. I justify my scepticism about the possibility of public policy formulation being influenced in any meaningful way by an academic discourse such as this, but nonetheless offer seven recommendations in this regard. The recommendations range from urgently addressing the worst features of this country's harshly stigmatising shaming culture - which leads to the endless recycling of those who are subject to that culture and form a very marginalised group - to arguing in favour of criminalising the stigmatisation of ex-offenders by having it declared hate speech and an offence that carries both civil and criminal sanctions. I conclude the article by expressing the hope that this exploratory approach to a decidedly novel view of conflict management and crime transformation would stimulate debate and new thinking about the notion of addressing the issue of crime by peaceful means rather than the outmoded methods and repeated failures of attempting to fight violence with violence.

Keywords : peacemaking criminology; broader movement of peace-building in conflict transformation; offender re-entry; open prisons; stigmatising shaming cultures; integrative shaming cultures; basic human needs; transformation of the prison system; peace by peaceful means; positive peace; paradigm shift; conflict management; public policy formulation.

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