The Rational Myths of the Carceral State – Jonathan Simon
This seminar is part of the Crime, Justice and Society Seminar Series organised by Edinburgh University’s Law School.
Institutional sociologists have taught us that the legitimacy of organizations is sustained more by alignment with institutionalized myths in their cultural environment than by their achievement of instrumental goals.
The history of criminal justice institutions from the late Medieval era to the early 21st century has institutionalized a series of powerful myths about crime and punishment to varying degrees in legal cultures throughout the world. These myths help explain why criminal justice institutions look so similar around the world, why they are so difficult to abolish despite a history of repetitive failures, and why new punitive campaigns remain relatively easy to mount across the globe regardless of that history.
Applying this framework to contemporary debates in the US over “defunding the police”, I suggest that any serious contraction of current penal institutions and practices will be very difficult to achieve despite an unprecedented social movement.
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