Making of the Criminal

Examining the making of the crimino-citizen is vital to know how the circumstances lead to form the full portrait of the person. A citizen-member is part and parcel of the citizen-society. One becomes a citizen of a country either by birth or by registration. Such citizen-member absorbs and digests everything that passes down to him from the citizen-society. Therefore, the environment of the citizen or the social factor, from the birth of the person intrudes into him/her and moulds the character. The binaries such as good and bad, right and wrong, truth and false, etc., enters relatively into the persons thoughts under diverse circumstances such as education, social status, employment, recreation and gender.

The self-narratives I received from those who spoke to me in Sri Lankan prisons proved that they were part of citizen-society and it was this social influence which had finally given them the branding of ‘criminal’. It is clearly understood that the citizen-society has its power structures designed according to the wealth, education and family backgrounds. This structural formation amounts to a class formation and citizen-elites find it easy to have power over the underprivileged, uneducated, and marginalized. This domination could be simply called as exploitation since it amounts to be mental and physical exploitation of the citizen under desperate circumstances. The exploitation is not termed as vice by the crimino-legal system and therefore the citizen-elite are always secured. Therefore, it amounts to a system of elite legality through which more cases are facilitated to be filed and more citizens – exploited and less privileged – are sent to jail. The voice of the less privileged citizen is kept silent under the sharp teeth of law. Equality is shattered under democracy since the underprivileged citizen does not have a chance to say why vice entered him or how he was indulged in vice by the citizen-society. The law book does not ask such questions, but willingly listens to the powerful citizen-elites of their representations as to how innocent and pure they are.  A class conflict is clearly visible in the crimino-legal system for which nobody has paid much attention but struggles to build more and more prisons, so that more and more citizens could be imprisoned.

Hence, the power and the knowledge of law is  to harass the citizens who are being exploited but not to root out the vice from this earth. This power play in the society is thus elaborated by Foucault[1]: ‘there is not, therefore, a criminal nature, but a play of forces which, according to the class to which individuals belong, will lead them to power or to prison: if born poor, today’s magistrates would no doubt be in the convict-ships; and the convicts, if they had been well born, ‘would be presiding in the courts and dispensing justice’. In his book Foucault further quotes from the French newspaper La Phalange[2] of how the criminality has received its class culture: ‘licensed prostitution, direct material theft, house-breaking, murder, brigandage for the lower classes’ while skilful spoliation, indirect, refined theft, clever exploitation of human cattle, carefully planned and brilliantly executed betrayals, transcendent pieces of sharp practice in short, all the truly elegant vices and lucrative crimes which the law is far too polite to interrupt remain the monopoly of the upper classes (my emphasis).’

[1] Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish(1977), pg. 289.

[2] 1st December 1838.