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In this work, I would like to question the canonical view of prison, which underlies the daily practice of law, and criminal law courses at law schools. Our criminal discourse excessively limits, or even forbids, the possibility of discussing imprisonment. In this way, imprisonment, a rudimentary and brutal tool, is criminal law´s ordinary means of punishment, and there is no evidence that legal operators will critically question it in these days.

Criminal law tolerates overcrowding, death, violence and corruption as if they were natural. Any person—specially lawyers, criminal judges, legislators or criminal law professors—knows that prison is selective and violent, and that the value of constitutional guarantees inside prisons is less than their value outside. We all know that the possibility of judicial control over prisons is minimal and that prisons have their own rules, as in a sinister experiment of legal pluralism.


Paper originally presented at SELA 2010, Insecurity, Democracy, and Law, in Santiago de Chile as part of the panel on “Imprisonment.”