Saturday, October 23, 2010

They Know It When They See It

An inmate in the South Dakota State Penitentiary has been denied access to art-instruction books because they contain images of unclothed human bodies.  (Original story here and here.)  While not everything that could be called an art book is a good art book, shouldn't we be doing everything we can to help felons improve their lives?  And isn't art one of the best things they can do while in prison?  Let us grant the prison wardens their claim that pornography worsens prison conditions; does that mean that all nudity is obscenity? (Scroll down to the concurring position of Mr. Justice Stewart.)

1 comment:

  1. Having taught Philosophy and Religious studies in an IN maximum security prison for 6 years, then for a semester in a (supposedly) medium security in NC,I've seen a lot of heavy-handed application of state DOC policies.

    I'm also someone who not only agrees with the contention that we ought to do some things to help felons improve their lives (a weaker claim than that "we should be doing everything we can to help felons improve their lives"), but also has taken part in and seen the process of rehabilitation, which is really a reconstruction and further development of moral character.

    But, I don't see this case in the same way as you do. As inmates will tell you just as often as correctional staff, when you're in a prison, you're in a prison, an institution where you lose some rights and many conveniences, and where the constantly threatened and broken good of good order often trumps individual goods (admittedly, until they've gone through an Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, or Ancient Philosophy class, they don't use that language!)

    It's good that this prisoner wants to develop his talents further. And that might actually play some part in his rehabilitation -- though it might just as well form part of patterns of behaviors which tilt towards the other end as well). But there's no reason why it has to be this avenue, this particular talent, these books, etc. If that state DOC is anything like those I've worked in, there are already a number of different pathways to rehabilitation which that prisoner can legitimately take part in.