Pursuing Human Techniques of Progressive Justice: The Ethical Assumptions of Early-to-Mid-Twentieth-Century English-Canadian Penal Reformers

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Kropf, Joel Eugene




In all portions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at least a little of the commentary in Canada concerning criminal justice discussed reforms that might in some way make for a more promising genre of penal activity in the colony or country. This dissertation allows us to probe reformist commentary from the first two thirds of the twentieth century, primarily discourse between 1920 and the mid-1950s regarding imprisonment and parole-related measures pertaining to adult men. Scholarship on nineteenth- or twentieth-century reformist penal activity, or on social reform more generally,
has often identified ways in which such activity proved quite consonant with more conservative assumptions or outcomes than would sit well with present-day progressive readers. My dissertation, by contrast, numbers among the studies which associate penal reformers’ outlook primarily with liberal or progressive perspectives. In this particular study, the liberal tenor of their mentality will register in our minds through an assessment of the ethical assumptions that reformers displayed, especially their assumptions concerning condemnation, exclusion, coercion, and compassion. Reformers’
speeches, publications, and so forth allow us to highlight four “moral sources” due to which they thought their penal perspective qualified as compelling: Christianity, the notion of humanness, the meritoriousness of technique, and the idea of justice. Their commentary assigned priority to technique-related rhetoric, to statements that associated penal activity, including rehabilitative tactics, with instrumentalist plans through which “the protection” with which the citizenry was enamoured would materialize. Yet even though reformers’ arguments savoured primarily of instrumentalist
assumptions, neither justice nor compassion was wholly neglected in their discourse. In fact, reformers hit upon a defensible affirmation of quasi-compassionate ideas thanks to instrumentalist rhetoric itself.


Canadian History
Criminology and Penology




Carleton University

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