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Families and the Moral Economy of Incarceration

CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Judah & Bryant, eds., 2004

23 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2009  

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

Date Written: 2004


This chapter examines the moral economy of incarceration from the perspective of one family. Derrick and Londa's story, neither one of flagrant injustice nor triumph against the odds, shows a family facing addiction, the criminal justice system's response to it, and the mixture of hardship and relief that incarceration brings to many families of drug offenders. Stories like theirs are almost entirely absent from current debates over incarceration rates and accountability. Indeed, the historical lack of the familial and community perspective of those most affected by incarceration can help to explain the willingness of states to accept mass-incarceration as a default response to social disorder. Once we begin attending to the accounts of people directly affected by criminal sanctions, however, we can begin to understand how our policies have exacerbated the very social problems they were intended to remedy. By holding offenders unaccountable to their families and communities, incarceration, at least as it is currently practiced, frustrates the fundamental norms of reciprocity that form the basis of social order itself.

Keywords: criminal law, incarceration, family life, urban ethnography

Suggested Citation

Braman, Donald, Families and the Moral Economy of Incarceration (2004). CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Judah & Bryant, eds., 2004. Available at SSRN:

Donald Braman (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

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United States

Cultural Cognition Project ( email )

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Washington, DC 20052 20052
United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)


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