Legal Punishment as Civil Ritual: Making Cultural Sense of Harsh Punishment
This article is an excerpt from American Prisons: A Critical Primer on Culture and Conversion to Islam. The central aim of this chapter is to examine the post-civil rights push toward harsh punishment through the cultural lens of ritual. The United States is one of the most punitive countries on the planet--the country is the world leader in imprisonment and is one of the top five that executes capital defendants. However, determining the catalysts of this turn to harsh punishment has proved vexing. Scholars have adequately explained how the end of the welfare state, followed by a proliferation of drug laws, police profiling, plea bargaining, and "tough on crime" law and policy were the major forces behind mass incarceration. This chapter’s ritual framework helps explain why.