Planning prisons and imagining abolition in Appalachia

Authored by: Judah Schept

The Routledge International Handbook of Penal Abolition

Print publication date:  March  2021
Online publication date:  March  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138354098
eBook ISBN: 9780429425035
Adobe ISBN:


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Central Appalachia is home to an expansive carceral geography, characterized by the proliferation of both jails and prisons. This growth cannot be understood by reducing it to crime trends and punishment regimes or solely as part of a regional plan, however dubious, for rural economic development. Rather, regional carceral development signals changing state strategies and capacities for putatively resolving various crises of racial capitalism, seen in sharpest relief in the environmental and economic destruction wrought by the coal industry. Drawing from fieldwork and archival research in Eastern Kentucky and situated in the interdisciplinary field of critical prison studies, this chapter examines the work of prisons and jails to resolve surpluses of land and labor, extend and upgrade infrastructure, brace against municipal revenue loss, and regenerate various segments of economic and social life. At the same time, the ideological hold of the prison is incomplete and many residents reject the prospect of a prison and imagine alternative economies. This chapter examines this contested terrain onto which both carceral and abolitionist geographies are projected.

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