1940s >> 1946 >> no-500-april-1946

Editorial: The Labour Government’s Prisons and Detention Barracks

 The prisons and military detention barracks are always being “reformed and made humane” by succeeding generations of well-meaning reformers, but the principal effect of each reform appears to be merely that of fobbing off exposure and gaining another period of immunity from criticism for the same old pernicious system. The six months of office of the Labour Government has witnessed several outbreaks in various prisons, and latterly the attempts by military prisoners to wreck the “glasshouses” at Aldershot and elsewhere. It may well be asked of those who hastened to assure us at the beginning of the war that all was now changed in the military prisons, whether they were being fooled themselves or whether they were knowingly fooling others.

 The Scottish Labour weekly Forward (2/3/46) demands a searching public enquiry “to end our miniature little concentration camps under military rule.” The sentiment is admirable, but why should Forward suppose that a new enquiry will be any more useful than the several that have already taken place? Prisons and detention barracks are not accidental happenings due merely to the stupidity of governmental and military officials. They have a purpose, that of intimidating would-be offenders against civil laws and military discipline. Can you destroy the institution without first destroying the conditions that make it necessary? Without going into the details of the different kinds of crimes under the law it is obvious that in the main crimes are directly concerned with capitalist property laws or with the attempt to force unwilling conscripts to fight. Let Forward and other supporters of the Labour Party administration of capitalism start at the right end. If they are content to maintain capitalism and to wage capitalism’s wars, then let them not deceive themselves into supposing that they can materially lessen the brutality of imprisonment in civil and military prisons.

 They should also remember that an inevitable result of war is that many men have become so bred to killing and destruction that they continue their habit of violence; it may take longer for them to return to the ways of civil life than it did to become soldiers.

 If the supporters of the Labour Government are really concerned to abolish the prisons, then let them recognise that, instead of persisting in their efforts to reform and patch up the capitalist system, they have got to get down to the job of abolishing it.

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