October 15, 2003

The Panoptic Prison 2.0

As I understand it, the Panopticon was originally a prison plan, designed under the idea that omniscient vigilance would prevent sin. People would get out of the habit of sinning and thus become rehabilitated if they thought they were being watched all the time, or at least surveillance would minimize the damage they could do.

As a metaphor for The Modern World, this has been discussed ad nauseum by Foucault and his followers. I don't want to go there. I want to wrap the thing back around and think of actual panoptic prisons and rehabilitation. Panopticism, and the anxiety created by it, is a pretty bad thing, but there may be worse things, especially as far as actual prisons are concerned. Modern prisons, as I understand it from reading the paper, suffer from the problem of being “colleges” for prisoners, spreading knowledge and—more importantly—creating social networks of cons and ex-cons. These are the original smart mobs. This is terrible for rehabilitation since, as theory has it, social networks reinforce themselves. I'm sure there are whole schools of criminologists studying methods for reducing the social network effects without denying basic rights to individual prisoners. My thought is: why not actually use modern panoptic technology to make house arrest more of an option? If every permitted object gets tagged with an RFID tag, nonpermitted objects and people aren't permitted, software is there to monitor movements, and [include every other technology that's has been shown to be privacy-invading], wouldn't it be possible for people to then either continue to live in their homes or live in communities that are not prisons, communicating and dealing with people who are not other prisoners? Yes, their home would be a prison, but with a key element missing: the social network.

[And note that I think that prison reform doesn't start with technological solutions, it starts with an acceptance of reality by lawmakers... an acceptance that I believe is currently severely lacking. But that's a different rant.]

Posted by mikek at October 15, 2003 05:18 PM | TrackBack
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