“Discipline and Punish” explains the roots of the modern penal system. The author analyzes punishment in the social context and how it can be affected by the changing power relations. Foucault begins by highlighting the situation in the 18th century when corporal punishments and execution of lawbreakers were legal in many regions. Back then, these punishments were not considered cruel and unusual as they are today. The author explains that investigation agencies used torture as a form of deriving information from suspects. The penalty was seen to be ceremonial and a ritual which people treasured and could not miss attending (Foucault 131). The author also notes that public execution led to the establishment of power and authority among kings. Human rights were routinely infringed, and nobody would challenge the punishments because the public viewed them as normal.
Foucault draws Jeremy Bentham’s inspiration on how a prison could be designed and uses the concept of “Panopticism”.The word “Pan” indicates “all” while “Optics” means “light”; hence “Panopticism” meant an institution which could see everything or everybody was under surveillance. Using this concept, Bentham imagines a prison to be a tall tower with cells arranged around it and therefore a prisoner could be monitored and he/she could not be aware if a guard was not watching. Additionally, there were high chances of the prisoner behaving correctly knowing that he was under surveillance. The concept of “Panopticism” was a prison design but Foucault thinks that it is symbolic of the state of power in the current age as there is someone who controls the law and initiates punishments.
Over time, views on the appropriateness of capital punishment changed. The acts of inhumanity and torture led to calls for reform in the systems of punishment in the 18th century. It was proposed that a theater of punishment in which a complex system of representations and signs would be publicly displayed be established (Kanmony 77). Three new models of punishment were implemented, but not everybody embraced the new system since some wanted the traditional punitive measures to be upheld. However, according to Foucault, the changes were not suggested out of concern for the prisoners’ welfare. Instead, a need for efficient power operation drove the reforms.
Foucault explains that the modern prison system did not exist before the 18th century. However, the punishments of the 17th and 18th century prepared the way for the modern justice system. The author explains that it was hard to instill discipline without capital punishment and other inhumane punitive measures. The authorities could not restrict the movements and time of law breakers. Therefore, there was a need to come up with a means of punishment that addressed the mentioned weakness. Foucault explains that three elements in disciplinary power, which included normalizing judgment, hierarchical observation, and examination, were proposed. Schedules and military drills were also used to correct deviant behavior. Additionally, the key instruments of power were observation and gazing.
The author of the article notes that the Bentham’s Panopticon building was used to exemplify disciplinary power and show that people can efficiently be supervised and controlled. The prison was developed to shape the behavior of lawbreakers (Haerens 78). Various institutions modeled after the Panopticon building sprout in the society. Foucault explains that the penitentiary is a development of the traditional prisons. Penitentiaries have hospital and workshops; hence not only does it punish lawbreakers, but also rehabilitates them, teaches them skills that would enable them to be self-dependent and takes care of their health.
The author explains the “carceral” system, which involves the process by which failure and operation are combined. He adds that the purpose of prison, especially the “carceral” system is to control crime in society. The system is essential for the achievement of the purpose of prisons. The prison is also a part of a power network that is spreading in society and is only controlled by strategic rules. Authorities have neglected the various calls to abolish the existing system which fails to identify the extent to which these systems have been embedded in the current society and human rights. However, Foucault explains that failure is part of nature; therefore, the criticism of failure in prisons is irrelevant.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. Print.
Haerens, Margaret. Human Rights. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2017. Print.
Kanmony, Julien. Human Rights Violation. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications, 2016. Print.