Monday 8 July 2013

Prison as a Cultural Symbol

The prison in Balassagyarmat. Built in 1845,
it is the oldest functioning prison in Hungary.
Today, prison is the ultimate guarantee of the moral order. Considering its importance and its institutional embeddedness, it is astonishing to realize how recent a phenomenon the prison is: In its present form, it is less than 200 years old. This suggests that, despite its apparent indispensability, prison is not an evident option to ensure compliance with moral rules. So the question arises: why the prison and why not something else?

In an age as enlightened as ours, your first guess will be that the institution of prison must have a rational justification. In this regard, one can think of two possible arguments for it: a practical and a moral one. Unfortunately, neither of them works.