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Decarceration: Community Treatment and the Deviant - A Radical View (A…

by Andrew T. Scull

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"Decarceration" is a word which has not yet entered the dictionary. But it is increasingly being used to designate a process with momentous implications for all of us. It is shorthand for a state-sponsored policy of closing down asylums, prisons, and reformatories. Mad people, criminals, and delinquents are being discharged or refused admission to the dumps in which they have been traditionally housed. Instead, they are to be left at large, to be coped with "in the community." We are told by those who run programs of this sort that keeping the criminal and the mentally disturbed in our midst is "humane." We are informed that it is a "more effective" means of curing or rehabilitating such people. And, miracle of miracles, we learn that this approach is also "cheaper"! With an alternative which embraces such an array of virtues, who can be surprised to learn that mental hospitals are emptying faster and faster, and that with each passing day the convicted felon's chances of going to prison grow more remote? On closer examination, it turns out that this whole enterprise is built on a foundation of sand. The claim that leaving deviants at large "cures" or "rehabilitates" them is just that - a claim. Little or no solid evidence can be offered in its support. Instead, it rests uneasily on a cloud of rhetoric and wishful thinking. Most people's conception of the "humane" does not embrace placing senile men and women in the hands of rapacious nursing home operators or turning loose the perpetrators of violent crimes, under conditions which guarantee that they will receive little or no supervision. Yet, as decarceration has been implemented, this is what has been happening. Much of the time, it appears as if the policy makers simply do not know what will happen when their schemes are put into effect. Nor do they seem very concerned to find out. Often, they do not even know where those they have dumped back on the rest of us are to be found.… (more)

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