by Adam Edwards
If this is how the Queen treats her prisoners, she doesn’t deserve to have any.
— Oscar Wilde
Every few months the ongoing tit-for-tat between the UK government and the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg develops. Strasbourg will insist that the UK must extend suffrage to the country’s imprisoned populace, and UK politicians will line up to express how nauseating they find the idea. It’s a piece of political theatre that unfolds with the predictable reliability of a soap opera.
It should serve to remind us as to the purpose prisons serve. Episodes like this ought to help us scratch the Ministry of Justice’s PR varnish enough to remember that prisons exist primarily as an expression of the power of the state over the individual; cross the line and we will lock you up. Not only will we take your liberty, but inasmuch as we seek to ‘rehabilitate’ and ‘reform’ you, we will take your identity too. We will arrest your body and your conscience alike; we will isolate you and remove you. While we’ve got the keys, you don’t exist. Just cross the line.