Sophie Angelis


Central to prison reform is the idea that prisons can be humane. Abolitionist scholarship has raised one challenge to this idea, in the form of a structural critique. Prisons, on this account, are social institutions that reflect and reinforce inequality; reform does not disturb those broader injustices, and so cannot cure the problems with prisons. Yes, and prison reform has another problem: there are limits to how humane any prison can be. Prisons are, by definition, instruments of punishment that inflict extreme isolation and control, which are dehumanizing experiences. And reforming prisons is, in some ways, an aesthetic project that is more concerned with the sensibilities of the punishers than the experience of the punished. I develop this argument using Norwegian prisons as a case study—prisons that reformists consider models of humane punishment, but which I describe differently through interviews with people incarcerated there. Part I of this Article situates my argument in abolitionist scholarship. Part II develops a critique of prisons and reform using Norwegian prisons as a case study. Part III mobilizes this critique of prison reform to offer a new account of some limits to prison conditions law. And Part IV suggests a kind of prescription: enforcing the perspective of the punished, rather than the punisher.

Included in

Criminal Law Commons



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