Breaking people on the wheel 21st century style

Foucault’s Discipline & Punish starts with a harrowing description of someone being broken on the wheel in early modern or medieval France. If I’ve understood correctly the point Foucault is making is this: we consider our modern criminal justice system with its near exclusive use of imprisonment as enlightened – a progressive and humanistic development from the cruel Middle Ages. But, this is not the case. There is a kind of inner cruelty in this disciplinary system which mirrors the vivid cruelty of the Middle Ages.

Sometimes UK judges give sentences which appear devoid of all of the following: mercy, compassion, psychology, love. Maybe judges in the 18th century actually had more compassion when then sentenced young people to transportation.

A case in point as reported by the Guardian. A young man of 19 (mental age 10?) has been sentenced to 3 years for making hoax calls. Look at the picture of the boy. He looks like a child. The judge accepted (apparently) that the young man is autistic.

I wouldn’t want this to be misunderstood but sending an autistic boy to jail for making hoax phone calls is on a par with the Medieval practice of trying and convicting animals.

Ironically we live in an age when we are enjoined (by law in fact) to be continually hyper-sensitive to the feelings of everyone around us. But this should not be confused with understanding and love which appears, if anything, to be even further away.

Update 8/12/18

This is a tragic case in the same vein:

The case concerns a young man who was jailed in 2009 for 18 years for trying to blow up a restaurant. He was a British man who had become “radicalised” online and converted to Islam. Except that he had an Aspergers diagnosis. He was 22 when he attacked the restaurant. He had been in mental hospital and had a history of self-harm. The “bombs” he used were amateurish homemade devices that could have caused a “huge fireball”. (I.e. no explosion). In the event he failed to even manage this. Again; look at his picture. This is a photograph of a confused and immature young man – not a terrorist.

In October 2016 Nicky Reilly killed himself in jail. But, don’t worry, the coroner has raised concerns and a report has been sent to someone.


What kind of country sends young people with autism to jail?

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer