Penal power in America: Forms, functions and foundations

by David Garland

18 Jan 2017
Digital Object Identifier

Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 5, pp. 1-35.

Abstract: In this article I discuss the exercise of penal power in contemporary America with a view to explaining its historical causes, its contemporary forms and functions, and its social foundations. I argue that the leading characteristic of American penality today is not degradation, retribution, racial caste-making, or neoliberal discipline but instead the imposition of penal controls. The remainder of the article develops some hypotheses about the social and political roots of that distinctive form of punishment. Re-connecting penal controls with patterns of crime and violence, I highlight the deficits of social control and social capital that set America off from comparable nations and I trace the sources of these deficits to the structure and operation of certain American institutions as well as the limited capacities and patterned dispositions of the American state.

Keywords: penality, political economy, criminal violence, social control, social deficits, state capacity, penal control, mass penal control.

British Academy Law Lecture, read 7 June 2016 (audio recording)

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