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Keywords:

  • prison;
  • sexual offenders;
  • evil;
  • rehabilitation;
  • public discourse]

SUMMARY

Notions of “evil” are a feature of everyday discourse in civil society. Sexual offenders, individuals often labeled as “evil,” are well aware of public images of themselves and their crimes. This article examines public discourses of “evil” as they pertain to sexual offenders, and the views of sexual offenders themselves on what this means to them. The ethnographic research was undertaken in a prison unit designed for the treatment of sexual offenders. As a result, the issue of rehabilitation figured centrally in their conceptualizations of evil. While admitting to being bad, and perhaps even having committed evil acts, they generally reject the label of “evil” as understood in essentialist terms. The fundamental issue of concern for my analysis here is how secular views on the nature of evil speak to the issue of rehabilitation, an inherently human, “natural” capability. To be essentially “evil,” in their view, is to be almost nonhuman—a view shared by much of the public as well—and, therefore, beyond rehabilitation.