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Law and Loss: Notes on the Legal Construction of Pain

18 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2014 Last revised: 1 Jun 2014

Date Written: April 28, 2014


Empirical research into the effects of mass incarceration reveals that the pains of contemporary imprisonment extend far beyond prison walls. This paper surveys how mass incarceration disrupts individual lives in wide-ranging ways, exacerbating existing social disadvantages, alienating families and neighbors, and further marginalizing the communities to which these individuals belong. While these effects are profound, the toll of mass incarceration is almost as invisible as it is potent, building as it does on existing structures of disadvantage. By contrast, the visibility the law accords victim survivors in death penalty cases exacts its own cost. The American death penalty system combines with broader social dynamics to create a sociologically ambivalent role for victim survivors — one that both offers and constrains opportunities to grieve. This paper suggests the need for further empirical research on ways the law influences how individuals reconcile the multiple demands of grief, mourning, and legal participation, as well as how the individual survivor’s social resources may influence his or her use of the law. In both cases, however, we see how the law shapes the experience of loss, both on its own and in conjunction with stigma and other social processes.

Keywords: death penalty, mass incarceration, victims

Suggested Citation

Rountree, Meredith, Law and Loss: Notes on the Legal Construction of Pain (April 28, 2014). American Journal of Criminal Law, Forthcoming; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-25. Available at SSRN:

Meredith Rountree (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
3125030227 (Phone)

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