Bernard Harcourt | October 3, 2020 | Abolition 13/13

We live in a punitive society—to borrow a term coined by Michel Foucault in his 1973 lectures at the Collège de France, La Société punitive.

With over two million men, women, and children, predominantly of color, caged in prisons and jails as we speak, another half million immigrants imprisoned in detention facilities each year, overcrowded prisons, and the pervasive use of solitary confinement; with massive imposition of fees and fines levied on the poor that amount in hundreds of municipalities to more than half of their revenues; with the federal execution of seven men in less than six months, all this during a time of mounting white supremacism and xenophobia, and pandemic conditions—this is, without question, a dark time of punitiveness in the United States.

And tragically, this is not new. It traces back decades or centuries to the legacy of slavery in this country and its eventual metamorphosis, through the key device of the criminal law, into practices of convict leasing and plantation prisons intended to maintain a racialized caste society.

The right question today, then, is not whether we live in a punitive society, it is instead what type of punitive society we live in and even more importantly, how we can get beyond it.

Originally published in Abolition 13/13. Read the full article here