U.S. focused, and the phenomenon is a more extreme one there – but nonetheless, many of the points Alice makes apply here too, increasingly. In the UK, we imprison around 150 of our citizens for each 100,000, the vast majority men – around 86,000 people on 2015 figures, and the number is moving upwards year on year. The fastest growing age group in the prison population is people over 60.
Alice describes a two track society, with an underclass facing not only profound social deprivation, inequality and disempowerment, but also discrimination and punishment for behaviours inevitably arising from that social context – and for behaviours that in a different neighbourhood or a different racial group would attract a different, and far less punitive, response.
Alice’s research and her book have attracted a lot of press, and some criticism of her research and her methods. The writer likes her energies, her passion and her political commitment – and her points seem like valid ones.
From where the writer is looking, our current cultural models, including criminal ‘justice’, depend on the principles of external locus, fault, blame, shaming and punishment – and are broken and counter-productive. They are ethically, philosophically, socially and emotionally repugnant and non-relational, favouring black and white thinking and brutal moralization over context and compassion. Above all else, they do not work. We, like the US, can imprison ever more of our citizens, and will thereby merely exacerbate the social and cultural ills that took us down this road in the first place.
The initiatives Alice describes at the end of her talk sound promising, and much needed, in terms of a more holistic and life-enhancing approach to the complexities and social/personal meanings of the tracks we follow in life – and how we can between us find ways to live with each other based on inclusion and compassion, to the benefit of us all.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994