2014 | 36 | 133-162
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This article focuses on the dilemmas of working in prisons with people serving the two most severe sentences, viz. 25 years imprisonment and life imprisonment. The author examines this from two angles. The first concerns the doctrinal and theoretical controversies surrounding the aims and purposes of serving long sentences. The author reviews the most prominent viewpoints in this area while pointing out the associated problems and dilemmas. The second is an attempt to relate the theoretical controversies surrounding the aims and purposes of the long prison sentences to the realities of prison practice, based as it is on three uniform systems of executing prison sentences, viz. standard (1 month to 15 years), 25 years and life. The author reports the results of his empirical research in this area. The author devotes special attention to the dilemmas that arise when a prisoner serving a very long sentence participates in a program of planned activities, some of which are ethical in nature. He keeps this in mind when attempting to evaluate prison practice. The fundamental question he poses should prompt a debate on the adequacy of this use of the rehabilitation model of executing a prison sentence and its consistency with the aims and purposes of this type of punishment, generally considered to be the best and most versatile. The author takes up the debate and examines the essence and the arguments of the controversy surrounding the purposes of long prison sentences. He considers which of the aims and purposes that appear in the prison literature are suitable for use in executing these sentences. The author consequently questions the purpose and moral acceptability of correctional activities. He points out that the main purpose of long sentences is to remove prisoners from society, which is difficult to reconcile with their corrective and rehabilitative functions. This illustrates the ethical ambiguity of correctional measures. The author later discusses the results of his own empirical studies, undertaken from this theoretical perspective. These focused on the following: 1. working with prisoners serving very long sentences in practice, and in particular, the sentencing regimen to which they are subjected; 2. the tasks and goals that prison staff set themselves in this connection; 3. whether and to what extent the designated ethical dilemmas are recognised in day-to-day prison work. This study comprised a diagnostic survey (a questionnaire and structured interviews), indirect observation (examining prison documents e.g. the personal files of prisoners serving very long sentences, prison work programs, prison regulations etc.). The questionnaire was completed by 71 prisoners serving the most severe sentences, including 15 life prisoners. Sixty two questionnaires were suitable for compilation. More than 5 interviews were conducted with life prisoners and 11 were conducted with prisoners serving 25-year sentences. Sixty one prison educators completed the questionnaire and interviews were conducted with 14 of them. The surveys and interviews were conducted in penal institutions ran by the District Prison Service Inspectorate of Koszalin, Łódź, Poznań and Wrocław between May 2012 and December 2013. This is more a pilot study on account of the small sample size. It was established that there had been a steady increase in the number of people given the two most severe sentences (789 prisoners in 1998 and 1,862 in March 2012, i.e. an increase of 136%). There were 324 life prisoners and 1,624 prisoners serving 25-year sentences on 31 March 2014. These 948 prisoners amount to 2.77% of the 70,426 prisoners in Polish penal institutions during this period, which is not inordinately high. A systematic increase in the number of life prisoners, however, is evident, as there were 358 of them in June 2014. The study additionally indicates a decidedly unfavourable, if not downright negative, criminological outlook. This questions the advisability of correctional measures. The author therefore recalls the classic notion of the incorrigible criminal, which is currently making a comeback and becoming increasingly popular. Nevertheless, as many as 53.33% of the life prisoners and 66.06% of the prisoners serving 25-year sentences in the survey were participating in a program of planned activities. The author examined the reasons for this and found, inter alia, that the prisoners hoped to benefit in some way from participating in the program. The author finishes by claiming that these findings warrant the conclusion that this situation is ethically ambiguous, as it is based on the principle that the end justifies the means. Prisoners realise that conditional release is most easily obtained by those who participate in planned activities. In this respect, they adapt their attitudes and behaviour while in prison. Prison educators are satisfied as the prison is bound to be peaceful and orderly. As the above suggests, the question as to whether there is any point in rehabilitating prisoners serving very long sentences and the ethical dilemmas associated with correctional activities in prison are decidedly less significant in practice. The author draws attention to the unacceptability of this and calls for more discussion in this area.
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  • Poznan University of Medical Science
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Publication order reference
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