Why Enhancing Criminalization Won’t Make Us Safe

In a recent interview on the radio program Against the Grain, Dean Spade talks about “five realities about violence and criminal punishment that are helpful for analyzing the limitations of… any enhancement of criminalization that we’re told will make us more safe.”

Here is one that’s particularly relevant to our work:

The third reality is that most violence doesn’t happen on the street between strangers, like it seems to on TV, but between people who know each other, in our homes, schools and in familiar places. Images of out-of-control serial killers and rapists who attack strangers feed the cultural thirst for retribution, and the idea that it’s acceptable to lock people away for life in unimaginably abusive conditions. In reality, the people who hurt us are usually people we know, and usually are also struggling under desperate conditions, and/or are victims of violence. Violence, especially sexual violence, is so common that we couldn’t possibly lock away every person who engages in it. Most violence is never reported to police because people have complex relationships with those who hurt them, and the whole framing of criminalization where bad guys get put away does not work for most survivors of violence. If we deal with the complexity of how common violence is, and let go of a system built on a fantasy of monstrous strangers, we might actually begin to focus on how to prevent violence, and heal from it. Banishment and exile, which are the only tools offered by the criminal punishment system and immigration enforcement system, only make sense when we maintain the fantasy that there are evil perpetrators committing crimes, rather than facing the reality that people we love are harming us, and each other, and that we need to go to fundamental root causes to change that.”

Follow the link to listen to the whole interview.

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