Imprisonment and Political Equality

24 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2015

See all articles by Peter Ramsay

Peter Ramsay

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: March 25, 2015


In this paper I outline the logical relations between political equality and the practice of imprisonment by the state. I identify the very limited conditions in which the citizen-rulers of a democratic state give it the authority to imprison them, and the still more limited conditions in which a democratic state has good reason to imprison its citizen-rulers. I further argue that this reason to imprison becomes less significant the more that formal political equality leads to substantive equality of political influence among citizens. The more democratic is the state, the more it will substitute restorative justice methods for imprisonment. I demonstrate that this democratic theory of punishment can explain recent huge rises in imprisonment rates in the US and the UK as one consequence of the retreat of political equality in those countries over the same period. I conclude by considering in turn the position of non-citizens in a penal regime of political equality; the persistent social injustice of democratic state punishment; and the inherent abolitionism of a penal theory based on a serious commitment to political equality.

Suggested Citation

Ramsay, Peter, Imprisonment and Political Equality (March 25, 2015). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 8/2015, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Ramsay (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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