Trend Watch

'Carceral' Spikes Amid Twitter Backlash

Of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison.

Carceral was among our top lookups on September 12th, 2017, after journalist Sarah Jaffe used the word in a tweet which drew widespread attention.

The word is defined as “of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison,” and has been in use in English since the late 16th century.

Notwithstanding, through fauour they were contented, that he should be released from his carceral indurance, in case hee woulde putte in sufficient surety in the kinges Chancerye, and sweare that he shall neuer holde or fauour any such opinions hereafter.
—John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, 1583

Last year a dissent written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor drew a considerable amount of attention to the word.

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.
—Justice Sotomayor, Utah, Petitioner, v. Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr., 20 Jun. 2016

The compound phrase employed by both Jaffe and Sotomayor (carceral state) is not one that we provide a distinct entry for as a fixed phrase. However, the term is increasingly found in writing, particularly in academic and legal journals.

Amid growing conversations about decarceration and shifting rhetorics on punishment, we address some of the obstacles that limit criminology as a site from which to engage the abolitionist project, asking where criminologists might turn for interventionist models that move away from imprisonment and the violence of the carceral state.
—Michelle Brown and Judah Schept, “New abolition, criminology and a critical carceral studies” (in Punishment & Society), 2017

This indicates that a full revival of the rehabilitative ideal is unlikely to promote a major rollback of the carceral state, especially upon considering some key political and ideational currents currently driving penal policy today.
—Anthony Grasso, “Broken Beyond Repair: Rehabilitative Penology and American Political Development” (in Political Research Quarterly), 2017

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