The Fat Prisoners’ Dilemma: Slow Violence, Intersectionality, and a Disability Rights Framework for the Future

49 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2022 Last revised: 1 Aug 2022

Date Written: June 16, 2022


Law has ignored the problems of fatness in prisons and jails and regularly fails to address much-needed accommodations for fat incarcerated people due to flaws in incarceration law and applications of disability law.

The dilemma of fat incarcerated people extends beyond litigation difficulties, however. It is a heuristic that illustrates the depth of the harm of mass incarceration and the need to take disability seriously—and how complicated taking disability seriously is. Attention to the social inequities that produce and maintain the population of fat people in prisons exposes a profound tension in disability scholarship and activism. Typically, disability scholarship and advocacy seek to unite a disability community of people with varying bodily impairments by focusing on stigma and stereotyping. While people’s bodies are different, all disabled people experience ableism. This Article contends that disability scholars and advocates can and should augment their focus on stigma and stereo- typing to emphasize the social inequities such as environmental poisoning, racism, poverty, and violence that produce many debilitating impairments. This proposal is an uncomfortable proposition for disability scholarship and advocacy wary of eugenic treatment and “cures.” Reducing social inequities would reduce the population of disabled people, and advocacy to improve the environmental predecessors to impairment could be viewed as a condemnation of the state of disability itself.

However, proper attention to intersectional injustice in conjunction with respect for disabled people requires thoughtful consideration of the production of impairments. Although not all disabilities are the result of social injustice, knitting together social inequality and disability would reorient the field on those who are most marginalized, redirect it toward a greater reliance on intersectional principles, and link it to other political and legal campaigns that challenge injustice.

Keywords: disability, health law, criminal law, mass incarceration, critical race theory

Suggested Citation

Belt, Rabia, The Fat Prisoners’ Dilemma: Slow Violence, Intersectionality, and a Disability Rights Framework for the Future (June 16, 2022). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 110, No. 4, 786 (2022), Available at SSRN:

Rabia Belt (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

Stanford Law School
Palo Alto, CA California 94304
United States
7343087252 (Phone)

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