Criminal Law Response 133 Harv. L. Rev. F. 42

Penal Abolitionism and Criminal Law Minimalism: Here And There, Now And Then

Responding to Dorothy E. Roberts, Abolition Constitutionalism

Response To:


I was exposed for the first time to penal abolitionist authors and discourse when I took Criminal Law as a first-year undergraduate law student at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1990. At that time, several professors taught penal abolitionism together with theories of punishment at the beginning of the course, and penal abolitionism was a common theme in criminal law and criminology discussions. In 1992, while still an undergraduate law student in Argentina, I published my first criminal law/criminology article, critically examining two of the most important penal abolitionist authors. However, when I came to Harvard Law School in 1998 to pursue an LL.M., penal abolitionism was not even mentioned in my Criminal Law class. In fact, to this day, prison abolitionism is not even mentioned in most if not all of the main American criminal law casebooks. It is only in the last five to ten years or so that penal abolitionism has become a theme, sometimes central, most often peripheral, at (some) American law schools and law reviews. The recent Harvard Law Review symposium on prison abolitionism and the thought-provoking Foreword: Abolition Constitutionalism by the prominent and insightful scholar Professor Dorothy Roberts — a work that this Response discusses — mark and crown this trend. The recent protests following George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police have included proposals and demands to abolish the police and have made prison abolition-ism known to even broader audiences.

* Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.