Prison must reform
It is difficult for me to say what I am: practician or theoretician, since I worked in a prison for ten years and then for twenty years I went in for scientific questions related with prisons.
First of all I want to express my gratitude to the organizers of this seminar. It is very promising that the questions related to prisons got into the focus of the public interest.
Since the second century BC — it is from this time that the punishment by incarceration was introduced in the ancient Rome and India — no changes in the prison routine were possible unless the society recognized their necessity. This seminar, I hope, is an indication that our society needs to reform the penitentiary system, to implement prison reforms.
I completely do not agree with a narrow treatment of the term ‘prison reforms. One should not confuse terms. As they use to say in Odessa, there are two great differences between punishment system, penal-executive system, labor correcting system, penitentiary system and prison system. Again, if we speak about reforms, what do we really mean: a serious change, reconstruction, redecoration, or just window dressing? Using the term ‘reform, I shall mean a serious reconstruction.
Besides, very different goals may be set before the establishment called ‘prison. These goals determine the system of relations among the people involved: those who stay in prison according to the verdict and those who work with the incarcerated according to the contract.
In other reports a prison was compared to a state within a state. This idea must not be exaggerated. A prison is of one flesh and blood with the state and society. All state and social vices are retained in the prison, but in a more cynical and visible forms.
One must not understand the prison life aloofly. For that part of the Ukrainian population which is incarcerated (and it counts 230 thousand people), staying in prison is a part of their lives. Prison must not only punish. Prison must be regarded as a special kind of a social clinic which is intended to cure social pathology. Clients of this clinic had not got the proper dose of attention from the society and state, so they had not learned the proper system of priorities and values which make the moral basis of human life. Their behavior, including the criminal one, is only a symptom of social pathology, of the distortion of their rules of living which they soaked in from their environment.
Prison is not a panacea in the struggle against crime, it is, perhaps, even not a domineering factor. The source of criminality is not located in prison. We have statistical data that now there are 30 thousand stray children only in the city of Kyiv. One must not be Nostradamus in order to predict that in five years they will become 30 thousand criminals. We must now build prisons to accommodate these candidates. We must regard prison as a collector in the social drainage system which must recycle the waste generated by the state and society. This will meet the interests of social security, it will be humane and noble. This will please the God, if your prefer this line of reasoning, because we shall give these people a chance to turn over the new leaf. These poor people will never have this chance without our help. If they could, they would not stay in prison. They need help on the side of society. They need sympathy, they need assistance to assess their previous existence, to feel the taste of new values, which are, as a rule, not material, but spiritual.
Lack of spirituality is the philosophical basis and foundation of the moral and social degradation of man. We must speak today about prison as a tool of moral resurrection of that part of our population which had not had any access to the positive socium, to spiritual values. This is the correct angle at which we must regard the reform of the penal-executive system whose main sense is expressed in its name. This is a punishing tool, what will become with the incarcerated in future does not interest the system. But every kind of human activity is reasonable if it achieves its result.
Speaking on the problems of the reformation of the prison system, applying the system approach, one should understand that any serious construction must start with the elaboration of the project.
The idea of constructing a new prison is as old as hills. The idea was developed by the first Christians. Even the first Church Council of AD 232 discussed this idea and decided that man can be returned to good life only through ‘penitencia — repentance. The term ‘penitentiary system stems from here. Almost two thousand years passed. Now this idea has been realized in many states, and it yields positive results. We must reorient our approaches, develop proper models and embody them in a law, because a law is the tool that can create something in a state.
Believe me, returning the incarcerated back to society is not a task for prison only, this is a task for the entire nation. This is not a simple task, I believe that Ukraine has a chance to fulfill this task.