Scaling Up or Scaling Back? The Pitfalls and Possibilities of Leveraging Federal Interventions for Abolition

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5 Scopus citations


Antiprison activists have often turned the federal court system to reduce the violence of the carceral state. However, such reform attempts have too often had the unintended consequence of fortifying the penal system. In this article, I interrogate one such intervention—a federal court order that encompassed the Louisiana Department of Corrections from 1975 to 1998. I argue that while the lawsuit was declared a success in reforming Angola, the federal court’s intervention buttressed and legitimated the growth of the Louisiana penal system. This paradox was produced through the limits of liberal reform ideology that failed to recognize the structural violence of incarceration. Rather, the federal courts located violence with prisoners instead of the punitive power of the state and racial capitalism. This framework not only led to an increase in punitive practices within Angola, it came to underpin penal expansion as the primary solution to cyclical overcrowding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-441
Number of pages19
JournalCritical Criminology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Nevertheless, not all state officials shared Hunt’s orientation to liberal prison reform. Policing and prosecutorial power underpinned by the ascendency of law and order was on the rise. For instance, the New Orleans City Council approved a new policing tactic in the spring of 1967 known as “stop and frisk.” Along with increasing opportunities for arrests, draconian laws were also being passed in the legislature such as enhancing the maximum sentence for armed robbery up to 99 years (“After Candidates for Angola” 1967). And in 1973 New Orleans voters elected Harry Connick as District Attorney, who ran on a fear‑ mongering tough on crime platform. One year after entering office, Connick boasted that his office, “put more people on death penalties in the last 10 months than has been done in the preceding four years” (Ott 1975). Moreover, Connick formed a “Career Criminal Bureau” funded through a $500 million federal LEAA grant, that focused on targeting pri‑ marily Black and working class “repeat offenders.” Within less than 3 years, the Career Criminal Bureau was responsible for the “disposal of 1836 habitual offenders with an over‑ all conviction rate of 95%” (A Review of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council 1978).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Nature B.V.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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