3 Ways Carceral Logic Limits Our Imaginations And Restricts Our Futures

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Zain Murdock
November 6, 2023

Carceral logic is the way of thinking that made prisons and policing, or carceral systems, possible. Because we’ve normalized those systems, we still use this logic even outside contexts of incarceration. Here’s three examples.

Are you innocent or guilty? 

Realistically, most real people, and real conflicts, are more complex than that. Carceral logic, however, tells us there’s a “terrible few” - the guilty people who do the wrong things because they have something “wrong” with them. But that establishes a dangerous, inaccurate binary, especially for marginalized people.

Defining punishment is complex, too. You might consider blocking someone’s number, punching someone, or killing someone who hurt you. Hurt also exists on a spectrum. 

Punishment in this context, along with surveillance and violating human rights, is moreso an abuse of power. Yes, prisons. But also actions like parents beating children.

State-enforced carceral logic leaves us little room to question punishments, or approach individual harms as part of a collective - like eliminating the actual causes of systemic sexual or racial violence. 

We’re expected to trade our agency for how the state responds to our conflicts, leaving many violence survivors dissatisfied or criminalized themselves.

Carceral logic is ingrained in our world. But it’s still a system of opinions. We can choose to believe something else. We can imagine and create more empowering logics, and a safer world.

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