From the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialism is established people will look back on today’s society and wonder how it was that we managed to look at everything upside-down. Take something like prison reform. The Socialist points out that crime as we know it can only occur in private property society. The majority of so-called crimes could not happen when everything is owned in common. After all, you can’t steal what you already own. So the obvious solution to the problem of the increasing crime rate is to establish a system of society where want and deprivation have been eliminated.
Now see how this strange social system we live under today completely distorts this clear way of looking at things and makes double think a necessity.
The Howard League for Penal Reform published their annual report in September of last year (The Guardian 16th September 1974.) This august body is the main organization that deals with proposals for improving conditions in prisons. The report states:
The task of promoting pro-social (our emphasis) behaviour therefore consists primarily in making potential wrongdoers (which means all of us) care whether other people are hurt.
The Howard League are referring to people who behave anti-socially. What comes to your mind in this category? Some of the obvious examples are these: the production and use of instruments of war, the destruction of food crops whilst millions starve, the existence of a minority class living in luxury whilst the majority exist on the borders of poverty, the building of office blocks whilst lists of homeless get longer, the minority ownership and control of the means of life, the deliberate restriction (in a world of shortages) of production to what can be sold at a profit, etc. The list is endless. But the Howard League (like the good bastion of the privileged class that it is) thinks anti-social behaviour means only robbing a bank. Double-think? You decide.
The League point out in their report that putting a person in prison deprives him or her of liberty. They follow that perceptive observation by stating that prisoners, in addition to suffering a loss cf liberty itself:
Are also subject to numerous other deprivations. Of the right to communicate freely even with their families, their lawyers or their MPs: of the right to decide when to get up in the morning or to put the light out at night, of free choice of occupation or study.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the writers of the report had never seen the real world outside the prison gates. Do you choose when to get up in the morning or do you have an alarm clock, church bell or factory hooter telling you that it is time to go to work? Do you decide when to put the light out at night, or is that decided for you by knowing you have to get up for work in the morning and feeling too tired anyway to want to leave the light on? Free choice of occupation? Would you choose, if that word meant anything, the boring repetitive progress of employment you currently undergo? Do you communicate freely with your lawyers (have you ever seen one?) or your MP?
The truth is that capitalism is an inhuman form of society which boasts amongst its vile record the locking away of human beings. All the reformers in the world will not alter the fact that private property has its converse public deprivation. The result is that some people will inevitably try to take for themselves a little of what private property rules forbid, and be treated abominably for doing so. The solution to the problems of prisoners is not going to be found in reforming some of the repressive institutions in society. Only a repressive society needs repressive institutions. Socialist society will have no more need of prisons than it will have of bombs.