The Practice and Pedagogy of Carceral Abolition in a Criminal Defense Clinic
38 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 29, 2021
For many, carceral abolition might once have been considered irreconcilable with the goals of legal education. However, the energy produced by recent social movements focused on issues of race and the criminal legal system has helped to advance widespread interest in the long-standing work of abolitionists. While abolitionist thought has flourished in organizing and non-legal academic spaces, law students and legal scholars are increasingly considering how a carceral abolitionist perspective can inform legal education and practice. Abolitionists understand that the criminal legal process ineffectively uses state-sanctioned violence, surveillance, punishment, and exclusion to address, and counterproductively create, the underlying problems that produce violence and harmful behavior in our communities. Abolition focuses on dismantling our current carceral systems and finding completely new, restorative and collaborative ways of addressing harmful social behaviors.
This Article examines whether abolitionist ethics fit into the practice and pedagogy of law school criminal defense clinics. It argues that although carceral abolition and the institutional role of public defense are an imperfect fit, criminal defense clinics should teach students how to effectively advocate for their clients through a lens of carceral abolition. Clinicians have an opportunity to expose students to practice that does more than just reinforce or merely critique the criminal legal system as it exists. Rather clinic students can explore ways to lawyer as “fellow travelers,” operating to actively shield individual clients from the weight of the state, while also supporting the efforts of organizers who are seeking to transform how we deal with social problems. The Article provides a brief introduction to abolitionist thought, explores the challenges and benefits of incorporating an abolitionist framework into defense clinics, and provides an approach for clinicians seeking to inform their teaching and practice with an understanding of carceral abolition.
Keywords: abolition, criminal defense, clinical pedagogy
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