48 pages 1 hour read

Michel Foucault

Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1975

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Part 4

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 4: “Prison”

Part 4, Chapter 1 Summary: “Complete and austere institutions”

Prisons are a contemporary invention and, therefore, born with problems. From its inception, the prison has been the focus of reform and advocacy. The concept of incarceration was intended to be a totally equal form of punishment. It quickly became a self-feeding monster that replaced all other forms of disciplinary action. Its central act of punishment was the removal of liberty. This made it appear to be a fair and equitable solution to criminality. Sentences could be applied for a smattering of crimes, and the time could be adjusted to fit the severity. Soon, prisons were expected to do more than merely contain individuals. They were expected to transform them. The public saw penal institutions as places where inmates could practice living within societal Norms. Because the prison functioned in a similar way to other institutions—schools, hospitals, barracks—prisoners could practice their reformed behaviors.

Foucault suggests that the process of punishment in a prison is ongoing and strips the prisoners of all liberty; it represses. It utilizes principles that were first imagined by reformers but have been proven ineffective. The first is isolation. Not only is the accused isolated from the external world; the accused is also isolated from fellow prisoners.