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51 How. J. Crim. Just. 1 (2012)

handle is hein.journals/hjcj51 and id is 1 raw text is: 



The Howard Journal Vol 51 No 1. February 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2311.2011.00686.x
ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 1-15




'The Prison is an Outlaw Institution'


                          LOIC WACQUANT
     Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, USA, and
     Researcher, Centre europeen de sociologie et de science politique, Paris


Abstract: This discussion of Les Prisons de la misbre (Raisons d'agir Editions,
Paris, 1999 - expanded and updated English-language edition, Prisons of Poverty,
Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2009) responds to queries put forth by the
editors of R de rdel and originally published in French in that journal in June 2000
(vol. 3, pp.33-8). It argues that the carceral boom in the United States results from the
penalisation of poverty correlative of the simultaneous revamping of the economic,
welfare and justice missions of the state. Pro-market think tanks have played a driving
role in fashioning and dijfusing America's 'punitive common sense' across the Atlantic,
thus accelerating the import of aggressive crime rhetorics and policies in Western Europe
by political elites (including Left governments) seduced by neoliberal ideology. But, while
the prison purports to enforce the law and to curtail the disorders generated by economic
deregulation, the recent French experience confirms that its very organisation and daily
operation make it an outlaw institution. It is promoted as a remedy for criminal insecurity
and urban marginality, but it only serves to concentrate and intensify both, even as it
makes them temporarily invisible. To get out of the policy and civic impasse into which the
penalisation of poverty leads contemporary societies, we must raise anew the quintessen-
tially political question of the purpose(lessness) of incarceration at centurys dawn.

Keywords:   incarceration; zero tolerance policing; penal  philosophy; penal
state; urban marginality; think tanks; neoliberalism


In Prisons of Poverty (Wacquant  2009a), you  argue that there is a close link
between   the rise of neoliberalism   and  the bolstering  of law-and-order
policies, first in the United States and  later in Europe. You  encapsulate
this development   in a succinct formula: 'Withering  away  of the economic
state, diminution   and  denigration   of the  social state, expansion   and
glorificaton of the penal state' (p.8). Can you unpack  that expression?

The  intent of this formula is to stress that we cannot understand  policing
and  prison policies in advanced societies today unless we place them  in the
framework   of a broader  transformation of the state, a transformation that is
itself linked to a makeover of wage work  and a shift in the balance of power
between  the classes and assorted groups  struggling over its control. In this
struggle, transnational corporations  and the 'modernising'  fractions of the
bourgeoisie  and state nobility have formed an alliance under  the banner  of

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C 2011 The Author
The Howard Journal of Criminaljustice C) 2011 The HowardLeague and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ UK

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