Theorizing Penal Change (and Stasis)

My research on penal change focuses on two overlapping areas of penal change:
  • Revisiting “Moments” of Innovation and Replacement: Penal scholars have long been drawn to moments when an old punishment is apparently replaced by a newly innovated one. However, a closer look at such moments reveals that innovation always has longer roots (a prehistory) that precede these moments and the apparent replacement is usually something more like displacement and layering.
  • Understanding Diffusion After Innovation: As penal scholars have been drawn to these moments of innovation, we have also traditionally paid less attention to what happens next—the diffusion that follows.
Punishment’s Templates and Temporal Boundaries: Reanalyzing Penal Change

Paper in development: This paper develops the concept of “penal templates” in an effort to relate macro-level theories of penal trends with micro-level studies of penal practice to better understand the dynamics of penal change. 

The Black Flower’s Slow Bloom: The Life Course of Proto-Prisons, 1776–1822

Paper in development: This paper examines the rise of the concept of penal incarceration as prisons transitioned from administrative holding tanks for a variety of people into places of punishment. It develops an ideal type model of the proto-prison and examines how this model came about, manifested in the 1790s, and ultimately gave way to the modern prisons of the 1820s and 1830s. 

Continuity in the Face of Penal Innovation: Revisiting the History of American Solitary Confinement (with Keramet Reiter) 

Paper under review: We examine the American history of solitary confinement, highlighting continuities and differences overtime, to understand why solitary confinement persists despite repeated cycles of criticism and revision. We explain that while external critics determine its use is unacceptable, prison administrators revise the practice, adapting in ways that overcome past critiques. Because prison administrators have always viewed solitary confinement as a tool of control and last resort, they have found ways to retain the practice, regardless of external changes in ideas about the appropriate goals and limits of punishment. 

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