Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Foucault and Rehabilitation

Foucault and Rehabilitation: When French critical theorist Michel Foucault published Discipline and Punish in 1975, he reinvigorated the philosophical debate concerning criminal justice systems. Prior to Foucault's work, it was generally assumed that criminals and criminality were the products of failing liberal democracies and that only through measures of austerity could crime be controlled. But after a critical examination of the history and theory surrounding Western penal codes, Foucault concludes that the primacy of individual choice still supersedes the shortcomings of any criminal justice system. That is, just as criminals choose to perform illegal acts, or acts that detract from the public good, so too can those criminals choose to be rehabilitated. Having been influenced by Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals (1887) and Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon (1785), Foucault argues that in most penal systems the prosecution possesses more rights than the defendant. In effect, the power of knowledge in criminal procedure is the supreme privilege of the prosecution. And like any process, there are always unintended consequences. Yet they can be mitigated by emphasizing the innate self-worth of the person behind the criminal. And through measures of rehabilitation, some criminals can ultimately rejoin society and avoid recidivism.

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