MLK, Watkins and Lebron

Today, to celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., Ross invited writer D. Watkins to speak to us about King’s influence and the power of our own small efforts. He spoke so well, I couldn’t help but come back to my project to mention him in the section where I talk about how education is the best form of rehabilitation in prisons. In this paragraph I also include a quote that Ms. Clark read this afternoon from journalist Chris Lepron. A lot of my project has been based on the things that I have come across while at Ross, and the message today was so important that I figured it wasn’t too late for me to add it to my paper. Here’s an excerpt:

At a speech at the Ross School, writer D. Watkins claimed he wanted to help achieve equality and peace in the world through literacy. He argued that reading supplies the mind with the words it needs to elaborate complex thoughts. Education is the antidote to what journalist Chris Lebron calls being “morally lazy” (Lebron, ). Reading, reflecting, questioning, are essential for people to start questioning their surroundings as they discover who they are, and what they need and deserve. Proving Lepron’s statement, former convict Arlander Brown said, “As you learn to be a better critical reader you learn to be a better self-critic, too.”

My Processfolio

Throughout the (long) process of making this paper, this blog has been my processfolio. In here I’ve put my weekly achievements and my thoughts and challenges about the project. But this blog’s most important task was being my draft place. I had big problems not knowing what to write or how to start, so I used this space to just write about whatever I found, without having to really find a place for it. Now, as I put my paper together, I’m taking all these short posts and seeing how they work together and expanding them a little bit.

Thank you (a.k.a. Ms. Scott) for taking the time to read it!

Last Week

Tomorrow, Wednesday January 14th, is time for Jake to decide if I can have Formal Approval. I think I will, my project just needs some edits and he needs to revise it.

I have the Exhibition Night on Thursday (January 22nd) so in this last week I need to read and re-read and re-read my paper, make sure it looks pretty, give it to Jake for correction and create the personality quiz that I will make available for visitors. I’ve found a website where I can create a quiz, and I’ll use it through the iPad I’ve asked the school for. The questions will help determine if the person has a retributive or an utilitarian personality. From there, I’ll explain what those concepts mean and how I used them in my project. I think this is a more fun way of engaging people in a discussion.



Getting into Shape

Here’s a bit of what I have so far. It’s missing the last two chapters and the conclusion, which I’m editing. I also need to add the Table of Contents and Bibliography when I’m done.

When I’m a little more certain about my other chapters I’ll upload them as well.

We’re almost there!!

Cover Introduction History Emergence

Last Week News

In exactly one week, on January 14th, I have to give in my project to get Formal Approval. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve finished it… I’ll probably just say that on the 14th, because, like I said, I just never feel like I have enough research. So I’m constantly finding new things to read and write about, and rewriting what I already have.

I intended on doing a lot of work on my project during Winter Break, but I couldn’t do as much as I expected. I mainly did some more reading, and worked on setting the structure of my paper. I’m going to meet Jake this week, so he can see what I have, and I want to ask him about what the paper should look like, how to print it, etc. I also want to ask about what interactive activity I should do during the Exhibition Night. I’ve already mentioned here that I wanted to do some activity with visitors that will provide an interesting way for them to learn about my paper. I thinking of using an iPad app to create a quiz, or something similar.

Introduction 2.0

I’ve started to rewrite my introduction because as my project developed I realized that I’m very  interested in the history of crime and punishment and the transition to incarceration. So what initially was in my introduction, is now part of a chapter about the creation of a penitentiary system and its initial principles.

This is what I have so far as my first introductory chapter:

– Throughout history, the view on how to establish justice has often changed. However, in all their different ideologies, civilizations have never disregarded that a system of justice is crucial to the control of society, and most importantly, that punishment is even more valuable to the maintenance of that system. When dealing with human nature, the 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria claims that “neither the power of eloquence nor the sublimest truths are sufficient to restrain, for any length of time, those passions which are excited by the lively impressions of present objects” (Beccaria, 9). Driven by these “passions,” or instincts, men are just like children; no warning of danger or parental plea is more compelling than a threat of punishment when trying to stop a child from acting upon an impulse. The effectiveness of punishment as a tool of control is sustained by the fact that the desire of self-preservation lies at the very core of human nature.

I will then go into the topic of the different types of punishment: utilitarian and retributive.


From Body to Soul

One of the biggest challenges in this project has been limiting my research. Every time I search for something, I find something else. It seems like I can never get the amount of knowledge I need to make this a powerful and accurate paper. Last week I found the book Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault, and it is taking me back to a part of my paper that I thought I had already finished.

In this book, the philosopher explains the origins of prison and its motivations after justice transitioned from physical punishment, like public executions and torture, to incarceration. In a chapter called “The Body of the Condemned,” Foucault describes the (brutal) retributive nature of a time when punishment was aimed at the body. By recounting the quartering and burning of a criminal, he illustrates what was “one of the most popular spectacles of eighteenth-century France.” He compares this to the new type of punishment that started to emerge in the late 18th century. He discusses how incarceration was intended to reach the soul of the criminal. Along with this new punishment, came new ideas that mark a period when justice and religion started to diverge, giving room for rationality. In the Age of Enlightenment, “to judge was to establish the truth of a crime.” Intellectuals started to analyze crimes “with a justifiable hold not only on offences, but on individuals; not only on what they do, but also on what they are, will be, may be.” By the 19th century, Foucault claims that two new concepts were added to the penal system, “measure” and “humanity.” As the Age of Enlightenment took down the austere absolute monarchies, it also brought about the respect towards man, based on his in his most innate aspect of being human and established “the legitimate frontier of the power to punish.”

Catalogue Entry

Last Friday, December 12th, was time to submit my Catalogue Entry, or a short description of my project. I took a look at the catalogues from past years and didn’t take long to write my entry. The problem came when I had to pick a title. For my formal proposal I’d put it as “The Penitentiary System: A Study of the Substratum.” I know, I’m pretty bad with titles. So I decided to change it for the catalogue. I asked Jake for advice and this is what he said:

Email Jake

So, I took his advice and tried to be simple and clear. As I was brainstorming on titles, these are the options I came up with:

  • On Incarceration
  • The U.S Penitentiary System
  • The Philosophy of Incarceration
  • The American Philosophy of Incarceration
  • Of Philosophy and Incarceration
  • Philosophy, Incarceration and the United States

In the end, I picked “The American Philosophy of Incarceration,” and I’m starting to regret that as well. My intention with this title was to show that my project was going to connect the American Penitentiary system to different philosophies and show what has become of the reasons for incarceration in America. But I’m thinking that it may sound like my project is just about American philosophies. Anyways, I’m sticking with it, and here’s how my entry will look like:

Manuela Marinho Cardoso

The American Philosophy of Incarceration

Mentor: Jacob Cockrell

Domain: Philosophy and English

Faculty Grader: Lance Sun

For my project I decided to get an early start into the world of law, the career I plan on pursuing. For that reason, I researched about a subject that has always bothered me: incarceration. My research paper uncovers the problems of the current penitentiary system in the United States from a philosophical point of view. It scrutinizes the American system of incarceration by analyzing what philosophers, like Cesare Beccaria, and more recent documents, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, claim about the treatment and punishment of citizens.



Hooray for Human Rights…

Yesterday, December 10th, was Human Rights Day, as declared by the United Nations. During our Cultural History class we took a look at The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or a list of thirty rights that the UN believes every human being is entitled to, for the simple reason of being human.

These rights are simply a declaration of the UN beliefs and impose no official constraints for countries. However, it is unsettling to read them and spot how many are disrespected by countries all over the world. But what caught my attention are the ones that seem to apply to the American citizens as long as they are not labeled as criminals.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 8.48.03 AM

Article 23, for example, establishes equality regarding employment. Nonetheless, many job applications ask about criminal records. Needless to say that the chances of someone getting the job greatly decrease as soon as that box is checked. In 2004, a movement called Ban the Box was created to banish the questions regarding criminal records from job applications and other forms. Even though, the movement has been fairly successful, causing changes in over 45 cities across the world, the discrimination against ex-convicts is still very much perceptible.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.28.53 AM

Another clearly undermined item is Article 25. Among many other ways in which the government disrespects this article, one that has shocked me the most is the existence of a law that prohibits those formerly convicted of drug related crimes of receiving food stamps and money assistance. Even though states have the authority to change this law, only nine have completely banned it!

One of the big parts of my research is about life after prison. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander compares the discrimination towards ex-convicts to that suffered by African-Americans under the Jim Crow laws. These are only a few examples that prove her argument.

#Fact of the Day

In thirty years, the American prison population has increased by 500%! Today there are nearly 2.5 million people under incarceration. While this would be the reflection of an awful increase in crime, the crime rates have actually decreased. In these 30 years the crime rate in the U.S. has decreased by approximately 15%. If the crime has decreased, who is being arrested in such vast numbers?

Crime Rate X Incarceration

According to Michelle Alexander, the writer of The New Jim Crow, “from a historical perspective (…) the lack of correlation between crime and punishment is nothing new.”

Incarceration by country

The severity of sentences in the United States is striking. An article by the  New York Times tries to unravel the reason for such discrepancy, “Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.” The same article provides another shocking fact: carrying less than 5% of the world’s population,  the United States holds 25% of its prisoners.

Organizing Ideas…

Topics covered:

  • Social Contract Theory (need to expand)
  • Definition of punishment
  • Retributive punishment
  • Kant and retribution (need to expand)
  • The Code of Hammurabi (elaborate on the connection to the present)
  • Utilitarian punishment
  • Cesare Beccaria
  • The U.S. Constitution

Topics to cover:

  • Severity of punishment and determining sentences
  • Race and minorities
  • Prison as a tool of control
  • After prison

Back to Work!

I’ve just met with Jake and he helped me get through a part of my writing that had me stuck. We’ve decided that I should expand my thoughts on all the ideas I mention here, like the theory of social contract, the Code of Hammurabi and Beccaria’s philosophy. I’ll elaborate on each and explain more clearly their connection to modern incarceration.

“Quote” to self

Quote from Of Crimes and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria, could be good for introduction about punishment:

“neither the power of eloquence nor the sublimest truths are sufficient to restrain, for any length of time, those passions which are excited by the lively impressions of present objects” (Beccaria, 9).

Retributive X Utilitarian

Some ideas of the Code of Hammurabi, while seemingly absurd, resemble the philosophical view of retributive punishment. This philosophy does not view punishment as a bad thing. It agrees that punishment should be enforced in proportion to the crime. Immanuel Kant, for instance, was a strong believer of punishment for the sake of punishment. He argued in favor of a “sacredness” of justice. Therefore, whoever inflicted a man’s rights, was harming the principle of justice and should be punished for it.

Opposing that view, is the utilitarian approach (and let my biased opinion be very clear here!). For utilitarians like Cesare Beccaria, punishment is inherently evil, but necessary to avoid unwanted behaviors in society. It should achieve “more good than the evil it represents” (Pollock, 5). Utilitarian punishment aims for deterrence, or the discouragement of criminal behaviors, relying on the effectiveness of the punishment to protect society, rather than its harshness. This deterrence can be either general, when the convict serves as an example to others, or specific, when it discourages the convict him/herself. To avoid crime, they also support the incapacitation and rehabilitation of convicts.

I’m pretty certain about where I stand between these two, but I’m still not sure about where the American system fits in.


Pollock, Joycelyn M. “Chapter 1.” The Philosophy and History of Prisons. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Texas State University. Web.

The Code of Hammurabi

Throughout history, the view on how to establish justice and order in society has often changed. For example, if we go all the way back to 1700 BCE in the Babylonian Empire, we will find a stela carved with the Code of Hammurabi. Named after its creator, the Emperor Hammurabi, the code is one of the first known sets of laws. This early display of a legislation carried some pretty absurd rules that reflect the ideas of that ancient civilization. The famous saying “an eye for an eye,” for instance, comes from the Code of Hammurabi. It is accompanied by a series of rules that reveal a revengeful society that treated its citizens according to their classes. Nonetheless, it was still an attempt towards justice. The final sentence of its introduction can be translated into,

When Marduk sent me to rule mankind, to impart judicial protection to the country, it was that I might establish right, justice and 
happiness among the people.

Sounds familiar… Maybe like the rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I guess for centuries governments have been chasing this concept of “justice.” The problem is, there’s a huge disparity between the meaning that each person attributes to this word.



Preliminary Approval

Wednesday, November 12th (just a few days away) is when Jake and I will decide if I will be able to finish my project in time to present in the first round. I finished my Bard essays last week so I have a lot to do to catch up on my project. If we agree that I cannot present during first rounds, my transcript will be sent to colleges with an incomplete… So, I’m going to do my part because there’s nothing better than a Sunday at your senior desk and I’ll give the updates on Wednesday.