Date of Award

12-1-2019

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Frankowski, Al

Abstract

Although the U.S. houses five percent of the world's population, we have the highest incarceration numbers on earth, with more than two million people behind bars. The penal institution has neither deterred crime nor effectively rehabilitated the criminal. Prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and have funding issues, yet the system prevails. If a business was spending billions of dollars, yet failing at its stated mission, investors would pull their funds and the business would fold. For a massive failing system to persist uninterrupted it must be fulfilling some need. What prison does is punish millions of bodies. Since this is what the system succeeds at, this is the need it must be fulfilling. I argue that this need is exacerbated by institutions that promote body aversion and activate in us a latent tendency for the flawed sinful body to be chastised. Reformists have made efforts at changing the system, and former political prisoner, Angela Davis, has called for the system to be abolished. I argue that before reform or abolition can be successful, there must be a change in perception of the human body. This study delves into how our collective need to punish bodies is illustrated in ancient rituals of sacrifice, which evolved into torture in the public square, before the penal institution took root. Myriad institutions take their toll on our perceptions of the body, and corporations exploit prisoners for free labor in a land where slavery is supposedly outlawed.

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