Senza Censura N.3 - Ottobre 2000




Control and annihilation

Reflections about imperialist prisons between the past and the present


A lot of initiatives of struggle were carried out by social prisoners this year, starting from January when seven of them seized a warder in Parma, to April when the ill-famed events took place in Sassari, followed by several months of protests in the largest prisons, aiming at improving the living conditions and getting an amnesty.

In spite of prisoners' resistance - not only the protests that were reported by mass media, but mostly the uncountable events of daily conflict against the military system - the war of the State against prisoners is going on and seems to recompose all the military, political and judicial fronts around the imperative of control, destruction, differentiation and stratification of social prisoners.

Accordingly to that, the answer to the massacre in Sassari, after the confinement of several warders due to the firmness of the prisoners' relatives who exposed the events, was the decision of building 4 new prisons and recruiting 4000 new warders.

Control and destruction are the words which better describe the function of imperialist prisons today. Even if it had been nursing from 1947, this function started being applied in Italy after the reform in 1975 and could be fully reached only after special political and economic circumstances.

"The movement to reform prisons isn't a belated event. The prison reform takes place nearly at the same time as the prison itself. It's sort of a programme"(M. Foucault).

This reform constitutes the institutional will of overcoming the dichotomy between the rehabilitation and destruction from which was born, in order to recompose it in the economic and social synthesis of institutions. The changes in the prison system - from the "archaic" exemplary punishments to the modern and advanced techniques of control and destruction - do not move along an inner line and can't be explained by the chance.

This evolution, that is the reform of the jail, can only be understood by analysing its stages and forms related with the main mode of production, the relations of production and social relations.

In 1975 the prison reform was based on the following main principles: the selection of prisoners as a condition for the individualisation of the sentence, the differentiation of treatment and the articulation of the levels in the system of confinement: minimum, low, and high security. A hierarchical system that corresponds with an individualised observation and the political judgement about the prisoner's behaviour, the basis for the type and quality of the so-called "therapy" of "rehabilitation".

The key-principles of the reform were based on the political and ideological reversal of prisoners' expectations, that had started off a long period of conflicts.

The main objective of the prisoners' struggles was a stronger and stronger relationship between their struggles and social conflicts. Therefore, according to their political project the reform should also promote the connection between the imprisoned and free proletarians aimed at the disarticulation of repressive institutions.

Only apparently a "democratic" one, the reform subordinated all improvements and reductions in confinement to a new identification of prisoners with the ideology of the ruling class, its values and the authority that they had infringed when violating the law.

The climax of the "movement for the reform" is the official opening of high security prisons, on July 1977. Hundreds of billions were spent to build 11 security prisons in 2 years, transforming a few islands in prisoner camps, restructuring jails and building isolation cells. The "movement for the reform" advanced at full speed, based on the model of the US prison in Marion and Stammhein in Germany.

The real aim of the change was to separate prisoners, eliminate the conflict in prisons, and destroy political prisoners.

In the summer 1978 the struggles started in high security prisons and rapidly spread in every jail. The resul was a defeat for that project of physical separation and political isolation of prisoners. And the answer of a wide group of social prisoners to the struggling activities launched by political prisoners was great, not only as a solidarity against high security prisons and a claim for improved living conditions in prisons, but also for the level of politicization.

The formation of committees of struggle in every prison was the highest form of the prisoners' organization, the opportunity for many proletarians to approach politics, a new awareness of the offensive character of their struggle, as it could be connected with the activities of the class vanguard out of prisons.

This short historical excursus is meant to describe, although concisely, the prison reform. A major change in the penitentiary system in Italy, which has established the key-principles on which imperialist prisons are still working, although the continuous state of emergency saw to it that the means used in the penitentiary system are more and more advanced and refined.

The use of the article 90 (of the reform) in the Eighties was meant to reduce and eliminate the "prisoners' rights" and resulted in very material restraints: the decrease in social relations among prisoners, reduction of exercise, books, paper, magazines, and an increase in body searches, isolation, censure on mail, and so on. After ending the emergency of "terrorism", the same trend can be found in the art. 41 for the emergency against "Mafia". Nothing has really changed in the last 20 years, if not that dozens of new prisons have been built, thousands of new warders have been recruited, and the control technologies have grown more refined. Their function of control and destruction not only against revolutionaries and communists, but against wide sections of society, hasn't changed at all.

On the other hand, counter-revolutionary policies have to fall into line with the new mode of capitalist production, which is based on the extension of short-term contracts as a result of the creation of a huge mass of unemployed, new technologies, policies of starvation in the developing countries and immigration towards developed imperialist countries.

It's no more a question of controlling/destroying a relatively little section of proletarians expelled or permanently marginalized from the production process, because the extension of short-term contracts, the increasing pauperization of wide sections of the proletariat, require a higher level of control from the State.

Therefore, "terrorist campaigns" against immigrants, squatters, addicted, gypsies, homeless (the so-called zero tolerance). The most evident data are the high number of immigrants in prison (more than 40% in large metropolitan jails) and the high mobility of prisoners.

In a system based on precariousness, for young proletarians it will be more and more frequent to wander from vocational training courses to unofficial work, from short-term contracts to factories, from informal economy to extra-legal activities, from prisons to employment agencies, and then to go back the same road in a sort of vicious circle And when today the US model of prison doesn't seem immediately applicable to the reality of our country, mostly due to its extension that constitutes partly its quality, however the same general lines seem to influence Italian reformers.

And these general lines are represented more than by right-wing parties mostly by Caselli, the director of DAP (Department of Prisons) who has repeatedly maintained that prisons can't be social dumps, and prisoners can't be considered as waste except that he proposed exactly the opposite.

Privatization of the sentence in rehabilitation centres and co-operatives, compulsory work for petty offences, and the establishment of four prison levels based on the type of crime, and social origin of prisoners.

Like modern rubbish: separate collection according to the level of dangerousness or recyclability.