Unfit to live among others Essays on the ethics of imprisonment

University dissertation from KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: This thesis provides an ethical analysis of imprisonment as a mode of punishment. Consisting in an introduction and four papers the thesis addresses several important questions concerning imprisonment from a number of different perspectives and theoretical starting points. One overall conclusion of this thesis is that imprisonment, as a mode of punishment, deserves more attention from moral and legal philosophers. It is also concluded that a more complete ethical assessment of prison conditions and prison management requires a broader focus. It must include an explicit discussion of both how imprisonment directly affects prison inmates and its negative side-effects on third parties. Another conclusion is that ethical discussions on prison conditions should not be too easily reduced to a question about how harsh or lenient is should be.Paper 1 argues that prisoners have a right to privacy. It is argued that respect for inmates’ privacy is related to respect for them as moral agents. Consequently, respect for inmates’ privacy is called for by different established philosophical theories about the justification of legal punishment. Practical implications of this argument are discussed and it is argued that invasion of privacy should be minimized to the greatest extent possible, without compromising other important values or the rights to safety and security. It is also proposed that respect for privacy should be part of the objective of creating and upholding a secure environment.Paper 2 discusses whether the collateral harm of imprisonment to the children and other close family members of prison inmates may give rise to special moral obligations towards them. Several collateral harms, including decreased psychological wellbeing, financial costs, loss of economic opportunities, and intrusion and control over their private lives, are identified. Two perspectives in moral philosophy, consequentialism and deontology, are then applied in order to assess whether these harms are permissible. It is argued that from either perspective it is hard to defend the claim that allowing for these harms are morally permissible. Consequently, imprisonment should be used only as a last resort. Where it is deemed necessary, it gives rise to special moral obligations. Using the notion of residual obligation, these obligations are then categorized and clarified.Paper 3 focuses on an argument that has figured in the philosophical debate on felon disenfranchisement. This argument states that as a matter of democratic self-determination, a legitimate democratic collective has the collective right to decide whether to disenfranchise felons as a way of defining their political identity. Yet, such a collective’s right to self-determination is limited, since the choice to disenfranchise anyone must be connected to normative considerations of political significance. This paper defends this argument against three charges that has been raised to it. In doing so it also explores under what circumstances felon disenfranchisement can be permissible.Paper 4 explores the question of whether prison inmates suffering from ADHD should be administered psychopharmacological intervention (methylphenidate) for their condition. The theoretical starting point for the discussion is the communicative theory of punishment, which understands criminal punishment   as a form of secular penance. Viewed through the lens of the communicative theory it is argued that the provision of pharmacological treatment to offenders with ADHD need not necessarily be conceived of as an alternative to punishment, but as an aid to achieving the penological ends of secular penance. Thus, in this view offenders diagnosed with ADHD should have the option to undergo pharmacological treatment.