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August 22, 2017

Looking at US prison history while charting "How to End Mass Incarceration"

The quoted title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Jacobin commentary authored by Roger Lancaster, which starts with an extended review of prison history in the United States.  I recommend the full piece, and here is a how it gets started:

The United States has not always been the world’s leading jailer, the only affluent democracy to make “incapacitation” its criminal justice system’s goal.  Once upon a time, it fashioned itself as the very model of what Michel Foucault called “the disciplinary society.”  That is, it took an enlightened approach to punishment, progressively tethering it to rehabilitative ideals.  Today, it is a carceral state, plain and simple.  It posts the highest incarceration rate in the world — as well as the highest violent crime rate among high-income countries.

Politicians, reporters, and activists from across the political spectrum have analyzed the ongoing crisis of mass incarceration.  Their accounts sometimes depict our current plight as an expression of puritanism, as an extension of slavery or Jim Crow, or as an exigency of capitalism.  But these approaches fail to address the question that ought to be foremost in front of us: what was the nature of the punitive turn that pushed the US off the path of reform and turned its correctional system into a rogue institution?

While the state-sanctioned brutality that now marks the American criminal justice system has motivated many activists to call for the complete abolition of prisons, we must begin with a clearer understanding of the complex institutional shifts that created and reproduce the phenomenon of mass incarceration.  Only then will we be able to see a clear path out of the current impasse.

August 22, 2017 at 08:37 AM | Permalink

Comments

"While the state-sanctioned brutality that now marks the American criminal justice system..."

What about the 15 crimes that go unpunished for every prison sentence handed down?

I am interested in seeing if jurisdictions with low population densities value people more, and coddle their criminals more.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 22, 2017 2:21:35 PM

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