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Radical Philosophy Today

Volume 5, 2007

Democracy, Racism, and Prisons

Jason L. Mallory
Pages 177-206

Prisoner Oppression and Free World Privilege

The position I defend in this paper is that both prisoners and ex-prisoners, at least within present U.S. society, experience a form of oppression that can be distinguished from that inflicted upon other structurally disadvantaged groups. As a result of these U.S. conditions, I also argue that those who have not been or are not currently incarcerated may possess some unearned advantages, similar to but also different from other forms of privilege, such as those based upon race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. In the first section, I investigate three definitions of oppression to articulate my thesis of prisoner oppression, using the work of Marilyn Frye, Kenneth Clatterbaugh, and Ann E. Cudd. In the second section, I respond to three objections against my thesis. I conclude in the third section with some thoughts on how the preceding arguments should affect the dominant discourse regarding prison reform and abolition.