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Beyond ‘gulags western style’? A reconsideration of Nils Christie’s Crime Control as Industry

Pratt, John
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) Theoretical Criminology. 5(3): 283-314.

Nils Christie in Crime Control as Industry has suggested that our spiralling prison populations, particularly in the United States, represent a move ‘towards gulags western style’. In much the same
way that Zygmunt Bauman sees modernity itself as creating the possibility for the Holocaust, so for Christie the current ‘gulagization’ of the West is not an aberration of modern society but is something that occurs naturally within it. While sympathetic to Christie, this article seeks to extend some of the themes of his book. In particular, it suggests that we may already be moving into
an area of penal control that takes us ‘beyond the gulag’. The gulag itself may no longer be a sufficient modality of punishment to absorb the punitive sentiments now at work in modern societies.
What we thus find is the supplementation of modern penal sanctions by new forms of legal and extra legal punishments that privilege community involvement and interests over those of
bureaucratic rationalism, leading to an uncertain and fragmented penal terrain. While, for Christie, there is the hope that at some point the basic good sense of ordinary people will prevail and
counter the trends that the forces of modernity have made possible, it is argued that there is no essentialized goodness to human values and public sentiment: unleashing them may only add
to the spiral of penal control. Author’s abstract.


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