Is Prison Still a Total Institution? A French Point of View

Pascal Decarpes, University of Lille II

In 2000 was prison in France much debated, but with two years gone one can say that not so much has changed : media has no interest on the issue anymore, politicians neither, and very few was done on a legislative level. My hypothesis is here to redefine the theory of prison as a total institution, pointing out that prison works as an autonomic entity and not much can affect its function. I say "total institution" because nothing can deeply critic the penitential ground : punishment. All persons and administrations dealing with prison are kept tight in a reduced area of speech where just the superficial elements of prison are discussed. But for practical, social and philosophical reasons, prison is thought as a masterpiece of the penal system, and people can't find the tools to think prison without for first point that prison is eternal since it would be essential because necessary. I try to show in my work how prison, as a social organisation, has the power to perpetuate itself, although criticism is tough towards its negative aspects.

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Updated 05/20/2006