The Leslie Devan Smith Jr. Lecture


Prison Abolition, and a Mule

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Professor Butler’s lecture, titled “Prison Abolition, and a Mule,” examines incarceration as a relatively recent development in the history of punishment.

“The first modern prison was constructed in Philadelphia in the early 1800s,” writes Butler. “The American penitentiary was intended as a reform, making the institution of punishment more humane and rehabilitative. By virtually any measure, prisons have not worked. They are sites of cruelty, dehumanization, and violence, as well as subordination by race, class, and gender. Prisons traumatize virtually all who come into contact with them. Abolition of prison could be the ultimate reform.”

In his lecture, Professor Butler suggests what would replace prisons, how people who cause harm could be dealt with in the absence of incarceration, and why abolition would make everyone safer and our society more just.