At CAP we have different identities in relation to the criminal punishment system: some of us have been punished by the system, some of us work with those who have been punished, some of us research the system and its impact, and some of us are critical of the system as community members. But this does not mean that we do not have overlapping experiences.
Writing here as people who research and study the system and its impact, and who are usually defined as academics, students or researchers, we also have many other experiences in relation to crime and punishment. These are ones we seldom disclose. We only have the choice to routinely hide these experiences because they have not been taken over by the system. Some of the ‘crimes’ we have committed are less serious, more routine, ones like being drunk in charge of a child, but also include possession/supply of class A drugs, driving under the influence, tax evasion, shoplifting and fraud.
We have also been at the receiving end of various crimes: burglary, sexual abuse, assault, robbery, theft, coercive control, drink spiking and more. We also know and love others who have experienced and/or committed crimes. Our relationship to crime is complicated, an entangled relation of experience and perpetuation. We are all ‘criminals’, but what is defined, treated and prosecuted as a crime is socially constructed and the punishment system is systematically classed, racialised and gendered. Not all crimes and individuals face the punishment system equally.
We also live with the consequences of crime as victims, but the system is not designed or intended to prevent harm or to deal with pain and trauma. Criminal punishment is the spiralling of harm from the original crime, intensifying both the pain suffered by those already hurt and drawing new people into the harm spiral. Where we want acknowledgement of the harm done and assurance that no one else will suffer the same fate, often we also have relationships with the people who harmed us and would not want them to suffer criminal punishment. This would break our connections, and pile pain upon pain. In relation to strangers, it is easier to think that punishment is what is needed, but they too have connections that will be broken. On top of this, there is the pain involved in going through the criminal punishment system’s processes as a victim, especially for more personal and intimate crimes.
Criminal punishment prioritises isolation, segregation and breaking of connections, it is a system that offers a distraction from confronting the brokenness in our society. As people who have been harmed and who have caused harm, we experience the failure and impact of the punishment system painfully and acutely, meaning we are personally, not just professionally, motivated to disrupt the status quo and work towards alternatives.