The decision to organize a
conference on how we punish has had several different sources, some obvious -
like the staggering increase in the number of people incarcerated in the US since
the 1970's, (the US now has the highest incarceration rate in the world despite a
significant decrease in its crime rates), and the well known fact that the United
States, unlike other Western democracies, reaffirms its characteristic exceptionalism
by still mandating capital punishment in many states of the Union - and some
less obvious. Among these less obvious reasons for this conference is an
interest in the foundations of our ideas of punishment which stem from theology
and philosophy and seem to have deep psychological roots which may illuminate
current practices. There are questions, as well, about how these ideas play
out in our understandings of the coercive power of a democratic state.
We are convening this conference in order to examine punishment and criminal
justice in the context of past histories and doctrines in order to better
understand the ways in which punishment has become deeply implicated in the
social life and social structures of American society. The conference is
organized into 6 sessions that ask questions about the why, what, how and
who of punishment, which will allow us to better understand the consequences
of the current practice of punishment and search for viable alternatives to
the carceral state in which we now live.
This conference is
supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, The Open Society Institute’s U.S.
Justice Fund, the Ford Foundation and The J.M. Kaplan Fund.
The conference is also cosponsored by the ACLU.