The Inertia of the Prison: A Socio-Legal Inquiry into the Persistence of Canadian Carcerality
The prison, both as idea and institution, has become inseparable from the modern Canadian social democratic state. It has also become a perpetual source of intolerable abuses and violations of basic norms of human decency. Yet it endures, even amid renewed questions about its utility raised by COVID-19 and intense scrutiny of the racial injustices of the criminal legal system. In this project, I ask: what does the prison serve and what accounts for its resilience? This research project seeks to explain the apparent inextricability of the prison from the prevailing social democratic order through a close examination of its history, and its relation to legal, political, social and economic orders. The project will consist of three elements: (1) a legal history of penal institutions, theory & reform in Canada from 1835 to present; (2) a case study looking closely at debates around prison construction and expansion in Ontario from 1980 to the present; and (3) a critical analysis of the prison’s place in present day Canada and the insights the history offers for disentangling the democratic state from carceral punishment.