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Thomas L. Dumm

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Enlightenment as Punishment

The author provides a meditation on punishment in the United States. Although many criminologists view the prison of late modernity, the “supermax,” as a retro model of the original penitentiary, Dumm argues that this is mistaken. Supermax imprisonment rejects the very essence of the original penitentiary project, which was based on the individualizing practices of self-control. Instead, today’s penal regime has as its purpose objectification, “‘de-individualizing’ practices of population control.” The Marion and Pelican Bay-type penitentiaries erect impenetrable barriers to social mobility. The current regime of totalitarian incarceration could not possibly be a product of the Enlightenment. Today’s criminal justice relies increasingly on judging appearances, anticipating a criminality that is rooted in bad character. Attempts at preemptive exclusion or “early intervention,” set in racial profiling, are the hallmarks of James Q. Wilson’s criminology. Dumm concludes his piece by positing a set of ethical principles to guide a truly enlightened policy of punishment, an alternative understanding that treats prisoners as knowable objects of control, possessing reason and personhood, and deserving of citizenship.

punishment; prisons; enlightenment — Europe; crime and criminals

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 27, No. 2 (2000): 237-251