Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Punitive Injunctions

58 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2013 Last revised: 20 Aug 2013

Nirej Sekhon

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: May 13, 2013


In theory, courts are only supposed to incarcerate an individual after having provided her with the host of procedural protections required by constitutional criminal procedure – appointed counsel and proof beyond a reasonable doubt to name just two. In practice however, individuals are routinely incarcerated for violating injunctions to which criminal procedure’s protections do not apply. At any given time, millions are subject to such injunctions and hundreds of thousands are in jail or prison for having violated one. Child support orders and probation orders are the most common examples of what this article terms “punitive injunctions.” Just last term, in Turner v. Rogers, the Supreme Court once again concluded that constitutional criminal procedure does not apply to the enforcement of such injunctions. This article argues that courts have inordinately used punitive injunctions against the poor and socially marginal. Punitive injunctions expand the pool of individuals who may be incarcerated and extend the time any particular individual is subject to custodial supervision. Contrary to official accounts, punitive injunctions do not meaningfully advance remedial or rehabilitative purposes. Rather, their widespread use demonstrates that the United States has unjustifiably taken a punitive course in managing poverty. Extending constitutional criminal procedure to the enforcement of punitive injunctions would be better than the status quo. But it would only be marginally better. For that reason, this article proposes farther-reaching reforms that would limit courts’ power to impose such injunctions in the first place.

Keywords: criminal procedure, courts, injunctions, child support, probation, sentencing, incarceration, poverty

JEL Classification: K14, K19, K40, K00, K49, K10, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Sekhon, Nirej, Punitive Injunctions (May 13, 2013). U. Penn. J. L. & Soc. Change, Forthcoming; Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-16. Available at SSRN:

Nirej Sekhon (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-413-9166 (Phone)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views