The Penalisation of Poverty and the rise of Neo-Liberalism

Abstract

This article explicates and extends the analyses put forth by the author in his book, Prisons of Poverty, which argues that the generalised increase of carceral populations in advanced societies is due to the growing use of the penal system as an instrument for managing social insecurity and containing the social disorders created at the bottom of the class structure by neo-liberal policies of economic deregulation and social-welfare retrenchment. It retraces the steps whereby this ‘neo-liberal penality’ was elaborated in the United States and then diffused throughout the world, but contends that European countries are not blindly following the American road to mass imprisonment: Europe's path to the penal state entails the conjoint intensification of both social and penal treatments of poverty and the activation of the policing functions of welfare services leading to a form of ‘social panoptism’. Only the building of a Europe-wide social state can check the spread of the penalisation of poverty and its deleterious social consequences.

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Wacquant, L. The Penalisation of Poverty and the rise of Neo-Liberalism. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 9, 401–412 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1013147404519

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  • criminalisation
  • neo-liberalism
  • poverty
  • penal state
  • social policy