Deliberative Failure Concerning Prisoners’ Communication

face of a prisoner

Public deliberation has not adequately addressed the regulation of prisoners’ communication with their families and friends. In 1956, scholars who collected and analyzed data on the regulation of visits to prisoners noted:

It seems probable also that in many prisons customary practices are followed year after year without a definite policy or review of the situation. … In general the purpose of visiting does not seem to be part of a clear cut policy.^

In 1972, the author of a study of prisoners’ communication with the outside world explained his motivation for the study:

The real impetus for the study was the author’s conversations with inmates and prison administrators who frequently made references to communication restrictions. Most seemed to think that the restrictions were too severe, yet the rationale for them was lacking – at least to the satisfaction of this researcher.^

The historical facts of the strict repression of prisoners’ communication early in the nineteenth century, and the subsequent, slow liberalization of prisoners’ communication can be publicly documented. The reasons for those changes should be publicly analyzed and discussed to further understanding of the regulation of communication with prisoners.

Public Deliberation Not Only Means of Democratic Governance

face of a prisoner

Those seeking to exercise their reason to serve the common good should seek more appreciation for different practices of communication. Just chatting with family and friends surely is not a good substitute for public deliberation and the accumulation of knowledge. Yet the reality of everyday life is also inescapable. Human nature, personal histories, material interests, intellectual investments, and social classes all affect the structure of public deliberation and the evolution of knowledge. Comforting belief in the existence of an ideal style of public deliberation, in a realm apart from the usual interests of everyday life, is harmful when it prevents adequate public valuation of communication among family and friends. A lesson from the history of suppressing prisoners’ communication is not to give up on public deliberation, but to interconnect better democratic governance to prisoners’ ordinary communication with their families and friends.