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Philosophical Topics

Volume 49, Issue 1, Spring 2021

Social Visibility

Reginald Dwayne Betts, Lori Gruen
Pages 81-97

Are Prisons Permissible?
Increasing Social Visibility of the Experiences of Incarcerated People

Class, race, and tough-on-crime political platforms are three of the most discussed, and thus most visible, forces that contribute to mass incarceration. The analysis of each of these forces has been illuminating, yet these broad narratives tend to obscure the burden of prison for those locked up within them. The social narratives that have developed to help understand the prison industrial system often inadvertently obscure the complex experiences and losses endured by prisoners. The psychic and physical toll that accrues from decades of social exile, the affronts to dignity that “corrections” regularly impose, and the injuries to one’s sense of themselves and their relationships that prison foments haven’t received the attention they deserve. This essay explores the question of the permissibility of causing harm through imprisonment and social abandonment, arguing that any adequate answer must make the particular experiences and actual concerns of incarcerated people socially visible.