Prisons, how? why?

Michel Foucault
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Prisons do not diminish the crime rate: they can be extended, multiplied, or transformed, the quantity of crime and criminals remains stable, or worse, increases. (…) Detention causes recidivism; those leaving prison have more chance than before of going back to it. (…) The prison makes possible, even encourages, the organization of a milieu of delinquents, loyal to one another, hierarchized, ready to aid and abet any future criminal acts. For the observation that prison fails to eliminate crime, one should perhaps substitute the hypothesis that prison has succeeded extremely well in producing delinquency, a specific type, a politically or economically less dangerous – and, on occasion, usable – form of illegality; in producing delinquents, in an apparently marginal but in fact centrally supervised milieu; in producing the delinquent as a pathologized subject.

Wolfgang Gratz
Further education center, penal system,

The worst thing that can happen to a prison is that the inmates get out of control, A situation that causes the “peace and order” (a pair of terms that appear seventeen times in Austrian penal law, “order” alone, eight times) to waver. Smooth alignment to the prison machinery is what really counts – everything else is of minor importance. For the prison, good inmates are ones who fit into their given roles without contradiction or friction, who carry out the work assigned to them without objections, show absolutely no conspicuous behavior, do not complain, and refrain from anything that might be used to question the system – as a whole, act as though they have no problem taking on the assigned role of entirely passive assimilation. Here is one of the reasons why prison achieves so little as a “reformatory institution.” Perfect adjustment to prison leaves a person incompetent for life.

A prisoner’s drop in status upon entering the institute almost compulsively generates the impulse to assure one’s identity, threatened by the institute’s rules, through contrary behavior, which is what makes a strict system of control necessary in the first place. Not only are criminal values learned and adopted in prison, but also the ability to exploit contradictions between the norm and actual behavior, to talk of assimilation and practice deviance when confronted with officials, but at the same time, to talk of opposition and practice betrayal when dealing with prisoners, ultimately bringing others into the corruption. In prison, one learns more about dealing with illegality than simply finding out how to break into safes and find accomplices. Prisons generate, at least in part, the behavioral abnormalities that they are set up to prevent.

”After all, no one in prison likes to see someone cheating someone else”
Notes form the diary of “Sammy Kovacs”, one of the protagonists of Gangster Girls

(…) Sandra was with me in my cell and I said to her so often that she shouldn’t do that, or else she should get her things out of the cell, get rid of the needles, so they don’t find anything when they frisk the cells because I didn’t want to have any problems since I was the only one who was able to go out on leave. I begged Sandra day after day to get rid of the stuff. She simply didn’t do it. Then she said that she had thrown away the needles, but she was lying to me. She kept on doing it. Shortly before finishing work, I went to the guard and asked if I could talk with her briefly, alone. It was hard for me to tell her. Tears welled up in my eyes, I cried and my whole body shook, because I was so sorry to betray Sandra but I couldn’t see any other way out of it because we were searched so often. I practically said nothing. The guard asked: “Is it about drugs?” I nodded. She asked if it were in my cell, I nodded, the other guard asked if it were Sandra, I nodded. She asked me where it was all hidden, and I told them. The guards informed the commando that they should frisk our cell more often.
Of course they also told them where Sandra had hidden the stuff. They told me that they would also look through my things, for appearances. So that it wouldn’t be obvious that I had told. When I got back to the cell, we weren’t allowed in because they were frisking it.
It really was not an easy decision. Actually everyone knew that I had said something, but naturally I denied it. After all, no one in prison likes to see someone cheating someone else. But what was I meant to do? I don’t know if it was right of me to betray Sandra or not. I don’t know until today. Back then I thought that it would be better for me to say something because I was the only one in these cells that had leave, and that would have seemed the most obvious thing that I had brought it to her. OK, and maybe it really did help her and she’s clean now? Although I heard from someone that she’s still hooked, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I can imagine quite well that she never stops taking drugs.