A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 13, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Wednesday, December 30, 1998, Jeff Goodman published "Commentary: What a prison sentence really means". He is a software engineer now, and speaks of his seven years in prison for a non-violent felony. He speaks of the horror of a prison system that incarcerates people who are not a threat to society and who could better repay the community for their crimes. He speaks of the labelling of all who break the law as "criminals," and of what that means in today's penal system.
I received notice of this editorial from a list to which I belong because of my work in criminal justice. The list provided a link to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, where I did a search for Jeff Goodman and found both his editorial comment, and the letters to the editor which followed. Follow the link. Read the material. It brings up major criminal justice issues.
Comments in " Thursday letters from readers" on Thursday, January 7, 1999: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Comment by Paul M. Bischke, St. Paul, Minnesota: ]Echos John Goodman's piece and recommends the following readings:
Although the individualist position is traditionally identified as conservative, and the structuralist position as liberal, Alice Abel Kemp, in Women's Work, Prentice-Hall, 1994, Chapters 3 and 4, illustrates clearly that these positions cannot be so easily identified politically. She suggests that the primary questions are "Where do you see the problem? In the individual, or in the structure?" and "Where do you see the solution? In the individual, or in the structure." Kemp identifies the individualist position on women's work as being represented by functionalism, neoclassical economics, liberal and liberal feminism, and radical feminism. (Chapter 3) She identifies the structural position on women's work as being represented by marxism, marxist feminism, socialist feminism, and theories of women of color. (Chapter 4)
In criminology and penology, the individualist position views the individual as responsible for not breaking the law, and any consequences thereto are less seen as the fault of the system than of the individual. Therefore, the solution, in this perspective lies principally with the individual. John Goodman and Paul Bischke see structural problems, such as the attempt to make a society drug free through enacting laws and exacting severe punishment for the breaking of those laws, as the source of the problem, and the solution in rethinking both the law and the penal system, especially in drug usage.
There are no answers to this dilemma. Habermas would speak of an auto-poietic non-learning subsystem. The drug issue particularly makes us aware of the extent to which the individual and the system are interdependent. Habermas would emphasize that interdependence, and remind us of the ever-present tension between the individual and the community. Few would maintain that the individual bears no responsibility for his/her actions in breaking the law. But most acknowledge that that the law privileges those who are empowered to make the law.
Kemp's analysis is equally useful in trying to understand our positions on violence, and how we are to deal with it. Where do you see the problem? Where do you see the solution? Even though these questions cannot lead us to simple answers, they should help to clarify the communication.
If you were making a moot court argument on either drug use and punishment or violence, asking yourself these questions, asking how your client would answer them, and then recognizing that these are policy and values issues, would help you to argue the case. Try it.