Criminal Law Essay 135 Harv. L. Rev. 2010

The Dangerous Few: Taking Seriously Prison Abolition and Its Skeptics


Prison abolition, in the span of just a few short years, has established a foothold in elite criminal legal discourse. But the basic question of how abolitionists would address “the dangerous few” often receives superficial treatment; the problem constitutes a “spectral force haunting abolitionist thought . . . as soon as abolitionist discourses navigate towards the programmatic and enter the public arena.” This Essay offers two main contributions: it (1) maps the diverse ways in which prison abolitionists most frequently respond to the challenge of “the dangerous few,” highlighting strengths and infirmities of each stance, and (2) proposes alternative, hopefully more productive, responses that interrogate and probe the implicit premises (empirical, ideological, or moral) embedded in and animating questions concerning “the dangerous few.”

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* Associate Professor, University of Virginia School of Law