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Crime and punishment, rehabilitation or revenge

Bioethics for prisoners?

By Leigh E. Rich and Michael A. Ashby

With some exceptions, it appears that the non-incarcerated world spends little time, if any at all, thinking about how prisoners are treated, whether during detainment or incarceration, after release, or when being put to state-sanctioned death. Of course, in part this is understandable, as the processes of punishment for breaking the social contract have moved from being public spectacle (once serving as a display of the sovereign’s power and as simultaneous warning and entertainment for lookers-on) to a private and “strange scientifico-juridical complex” (Foucault 1995, 19) with the veneer of “modernity” and “civility,” theoretically drawing a clear line between the horrors of the crimes committed and those of the punishment (Sarat 2014). But even in the 21st century, the distinction is fuzzy at best. Incarcerated populations around the globe continue to be at greater risk of infectious diseases than non-incarcerated persons in the same communities (see da Cruz and Rich 2014), prisoners are exposed to drug use, violence, and rape in settings referred to as “controlled” environments in the name of “public safety” (Rich and da Cruz 2014), and parolees may be stripped of certain civil rights and left stigmatized and in states similar to or worse than those prior to incarceration (Alexander 2010)—all while data exist indicating that socioeconomic hardships and structural violence make some individuals more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than others.

Moreover, when the plight of prisoners is broached in public discussions, it often is dismissed or disparaged. [continued …]

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Rich, Leigh E., and Michael A. Ashby. 2014. Crime and punishment, rehabilitation or revenge: Bioethics for prisoners? Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11(3): 269–274.

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