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"The Rationale for the Use of Imprisonment as a Last Resort

            Throughout history societies have attempted to manage and control their deviant populations. Western industrial societies have undergone a number of transformations in their quest to achieve such control. Disenchantment with the penal system and its inability to achieve rehabilitation within its confines has meant that in recent years, and especially since the 1960's, a central element in the social control practises of advanced capitalist societies has been a state-sponsored attempt to deinstitutionalise deviant populations. In face of steadily escalating crime rates, overcrowded prison systems and an increasing number of the population formally deserving imprisonment, a variety of approaches have been initiated in an attempt to reduce the number of prisoners. In varying degrees control of such deviant groups has become increasingly community based. This major shift in social control styles and practises is known as decarceration and will form the focus of this paper. In order to understand the concept of decarceration it will be necessary to contextualise the concept within a historical framework. This paper will therefore begin with a brief explanation of the historical precedents that led to the modern approach of deviancy control and the push for decarceration. This paper will then discuss the meaning of decarceration, providing examples of decarceration practises and also consider the implications of these practises both for the individuals involved within the criminal justice system and for society as a whole. This writer contends that decarceration is plagued by the same contradictions and conflicts of the prison system.
             The prison system and the methods for dealing with the deviant within the system have changed dramatically from the time of its first inception. In medieval times deviant populations - such groups as the poor, impotent, aged, mentally ill, intellectually handicapped, beggars, vagrants and minor criminals - were not distinguished, but lumped together in a single ill defined entity and essentially responded to in similar ways.

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