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June 28, 2022

"The Fat Prisoners’ Dilemma: Slow Violence, Intersectionality, and a Disability Rights Framework for the Future"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Rabia Belt now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Law has ignored the problems of fatness in prisons and jails and regularly fails to address much-needed accommodations for fat incarcerated people due to flaws in incarceration law and applications of disability law.

The dilemma of fat incarcerated people extends beyond litigation difficulties, however.  It is a heuristic that illustrates the depth of the harm of mass incarceration and the need to take disability seriously — and how complicated taking disability seriously is.  Attention to the social inequities that produce and maintain the population of fat people in prisons exposes a profound tension in disability scholarship and activism.  Typically, disability scholarship and advocacy seek to unite a disability community of people with varying bodily impairments by focusing on stigma and stereotyping. While people’s bodies are different, all disabled people experience ableism.  This Article contends that disability scholars and advocates can and should augment their focus on stigma and stereotyping to emphasize the social inequities such as environmental poisoning, racism, poverty, and violence that produce many debilitating impairments.  This proposal is an uncomfortable proposition for disability scholarship and advocacy wary of eugenic treatment and “cures.”  Reducing social inequities would reduce the population of disabled people, and advocacy to improve the environmental predecessors to impairment could be viewed as a condemnation of the state of disability itself.

However, proper attention to intersectional injustice in conjunction with respect for disabled people requires thoughtful consideration of the production of impairments.  Although not all disabilities are the result of social injustice, knitting together social inequality and disability would reorient the field on those who are most marginalized, redirect it toward a greater reliance on intersectional principles, and link it to other political and legal campaigns that challenge injustice.

June 28, 2022 at 10:01 PM | Permalink


Good grief. This thing reads like it was written by a machine that had been programmed with about a dozen woke phrases and instructed to splice them together at random over the course of several sentences.

If you're curious about why legal academia's "scholarship" isn't even read, much less taken seriously, by anyone outside the bubble, now you know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 29, 2022 7:58:32 AM

Bill, I believe the author is on the faculty at your alma mater (Stanford Law School) and previous was at the school you sometimes teach at (Georgetown University Law Center). "Guilt by association?"

Jokes aside, I have long thought Adam Kolber's article exploring how prison is experienced quite differently by different people, The Subjective Experience of Punishment, 109 Colum. L. Rev. 182 (2009), is one of the most interesting and challenging articles for anyone who embraces primarily retributivist punishment views.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 29, 2022 8:30:29 AM

Doug --

Oh dear! Perhaps Stanford will be headed in the same direction in the USN&WR rankings as that other law school whose name escapes me just now, but I think it rhymes with Schmarvard.

As to Georgetown, I'll need to take this up with my colleague Prof. Ilya Shapiro.........oh.........wait........................

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 29, 2022 8:49:10 AM

This is *good* news. When I was in a Virginia prison 42 years ago, it was impossible for any prisoner to become or remain fat. There just weren't enough calories provided. All prisoners were perpetually hungry.

Posted by: Keith Lynch | Jun 29, 2022 10:21:43 PM

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