Feminism and the Prison

Today, we invite you to zoom on different accounts of the prison as a place of social practice and what feminist standpoints have had to say about it. The criminal justice system has witnessed fierce debates over its actual impact and ability to support a feminist agenda. We hope that this brief introduction to carceral and anti-carceral feminism will allow you to start reflecting upon the prison, its role in producing social facts and identities, and its connection to feminist struggles.

         Before delving into this discussion, one should acknowledge the impact of prison on women, their rights, and the inadequacy of a system furthering the marginalisation of some. Incarceration and policing undermine reproductive and economic justice, entrench gender conformity through the institutionalisation of gender segregation and the lack of health resources for trans prisoners, endanger family structures through estrangement and removal, fail to provide adequate mental health services and remain a place where violence and sexual violence via guards or inmates are mundane.

         Originating from the United States, carceral feminism represents a pathway for law-and-order where policing, prosecution, punishment, prison sentences, and state condemnation of perpetrators are understood as the way to resolve gendered and sexual violence. This feminism-as-crime-control ideology advocates for an increased criminalisation and incarceration of perpetrators. However, many (anti-carceral feminists) argue that this approach fails to critique the criminal justice system, its emphasis on criminal punishment, and how this advertently or inadvertently reinforces carceral transitions.

         Taking the simple fact that survivors of gender-based violence are consistently failed by the criminal punishment system when they seek justice, anti-carceral feminists also started to look into the carceral state and the prison industrial complex in the rare cases where perpetrators were to be imprisoned. Here, prisons are understood as institutions reproducing racist, colonial, classist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic violence where rape has also become ubiquitous. It seems almost ironic to prevent sexual crimes by putting individuals in places where a culture of rape and sexual violence are most likely to be normalised. In a similar fashion, the law because producing normative scripts, which we abide by, may contribute to the production of the kinds of deviance it ultimately seeks to impede.

         Moreover, since the institutions already disproportionately incarcerate already marginalised minorities, prisons cannot represent a ‘feminist remedy’. A feminist remedy could be found in practices of restorative or transformative justice where community members collaborate, work together in holding offenders accountable, facilitating survivors’ healing, and more importantly in addressing the root causes of gender-based violence. In this way, steering away from the criminal justice system, its biases towards dominant structures, and its emphasis on prison as a tool of social control. 

         In sum, demands for justice should not necessarily be equated with securing harsh punishment and incarceration that may very well reproduce violence. While Orange may be the new black, what is the new meaning of prison or justice?


Taylor, C. (2018). Anti-carceral feminism and sexual assault—A defense: A critique of the critique of the critique of carceral feminism. Social Philosophy Today, 34, 29-49.

Terwiel, A. (2020). What is carceral feminism?. Political Theory, 48(4), 421-442.
UCLA Centre for the Study of Women. (n.d.). Feminist anti-carceral studies. UCLA Centre for the Study of Women. Retrieved October 09, 2021, from