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Punitive attitudes 'not confined to criminal justice sector'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

"The current debate on the sterilisation of mothers, shows that our taste for punishment is not confined to the criminal justice sector", says Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

"The communities that most child abusers come from have experienced a reduction in primary health care services; increased evictions from and ineligibility for social housing; increased levels of unemployment; a decline in the level of welfare support; the introduction of "workfare;" and increased pressure to "behave" without any commensurate provision of support." He said. " Reviews into the way government responds to child abuse and neglect, and administration of the youth justice system, are simply an expansion of the government's intention to flex their muscles toward the group they regard as the undeserving poor.

"Modern societies have three main strategies to treat those conditions and conducts that are deemed undesirable, threatening, or offensive. The first consists in socializing them, that is, acting at the level of collective structures and mechanisms that produce and reproduce them - e.g. urban housing renewal, subsidized housing, stable and secure employment, adequate health services. This path involves the state in reasserting responsibility and rebuilding the capacities of the state to deal with increasing poverty and marginalization.

The second is medicalisation - i.e. to consider that a person is committing crime because of alcohol dependency, mental illness, or a genetic deficiency, and then apply a medical remedy to a problem on the basis that it is an individual pathology able to be treated by health professionals. Once a condition is classed as medical, a medical model of disability tends to be used rather than a social model.

The third state strategy is penalization: under this scenario it is not a matter of removing social obstruction or treating individual pathology. The person is instead labelled as an offender and treated as such. The offender ceases to exist as a citizen at the point of imprisonment, and becomes the target for increased punishment.

"Sterilisation is in effect, punishment disguised as a medical response to issues such as marginalisation and inequity. It enables the state to transfer its responsibility onto individuals, who are then punished for failing to cope in the absence of state support.

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