Loïc Wacquant is the author of the book ‘Punishing the Poor’ where chapter four is about ‘The Great Confinement of the fin de siècle’. He is a professor of sociology who received an award of the American Sociological Association in 2008 and also the author of many scholarly articles and books. He published the book in 2009.
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Wacquant explains the state of carceral facilities and the hardships experienced by the confined people. Their population increases deteriorating accommodation facilities. They experience stratification and many challenges due to a lack of basic services, overcrowding and reduced recovery chances after release.
The author explains the presence of three levels of a carceral system. Municipal jails, where people with less than one year sentence and those waiting for trial are kept, state prisons, where those with more than one year sentence are held, and the federal prisons which hold persons prosecuted of contradicting the feudal penal code. These facilities are different in terms of structure, discipline, size, amenities and security level among others. For instance, the maximum security is in state prisons.
Stratification, in this system, is evident as shown by the author. The base for this is social and judicial. The bases arise from the inmates’ experiences. Social differences arise in terms of gender, class and ethno-racial identity meaning that people in confinement stay, in groups, formed based on gender, class or race. Judicial stratification results from the length of sentence, where people with long sentences are confined in similar institutions and those with less than one year imprisonment in another nature of defense and a person’s access to legal help. Criminals are also treated differently depending on the crimes they committed and the place of confinement.
The author gives an example of the United States’ case where white collar criminals served their sentences in places without fences and bars experienced good services, comfort and were under little supervision. This was different from what the street criminals, who were mostly Africans and Latinos, underwent. They experienced bad conditions in their confinement areas. This shows stratification on a basis of race since the whites were treated better than the Latinos and the blacks. The prisons underwent a large increase in population which was overwhelming to the carceral facilities. The author attributes this increase as being a result of a nations’ trend. For instance, he states that South Africa during their struggle to eradicate and fight apartheid, experienced increased imprisonment rates by half as much as it was before the struggle. This means that when a nation is unstable, the level of confined people increases.
According to the author, country jails have turned from being institutions of punishing and rehabilitating law offenders into being places for storage of a large poor population. This high population in the jails leads many nations to strategize on ways of accommodating the high population so they can reduce the pressure on the carceral facilities. The author gives an example of Los Angeles where buses were used to confine people thus stretching housing capacities of their carceral institutions. These buses held the people at night. During the day, they parked by the jails compound waiting for prisoners to be freed. This was so that there can be vacant cells to accommodate the prisoners in the bus.
Extension of crimes that leads to confinement is explained by the author as a major cause of overcrowding in jails. This means that people are confined even due to the commitment of petty crimes that would not warrant confinement previously. However, widening of sanctions is the solution suggested by the author. For instance, people can be given house arrests or community development among others. This results in punishing offenders without confining them. This then helps to prevent population increase in jails and prisons.
Creation of judicial databanks for observation of people who have undergone judicial supervision has been demonstrated by the author as one creating problems. This is because the confined people, their friends, relatives and families are included in the penal apparatus and categorized as unemployable due to the criminal records in these data bases even though the information may be incorrect or out of date. This leaves them with difficult options to get hired. Presence of verification companies helps at a minimal level due to the information diffusing from their files.
Violence is common in these institutions due to the low ratios of the guards and the inmates. The inmates experience maltreatment for instance in New York. The author explains how the inmates experienced many cases of detainees injured by tear gas grenades and rubber bullets among others. Others were held under lock for many days after their intended official release date had passed due to inefficient administration.
The author through the text helps one widen ones views about carceral facilities, the lives of detainees and the problems they encounter. National administration ignores carceral facilities with the excuse that the confined people are paying for the crimes they committed thus the Great Confinement.