Punishment and Welfare revisited

AuthorDavid Garland
Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
Subject MatterEssay
untitled Essay
Punishment & Society
Punishment and
2019, Vol. 21(3) 267–274
! The Author(s) 2018
Welfare revisited
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474518771317
David Garland
New York University, USA
First published in 1985, Punishment and Welfare: A History of Penal Strategies develops a
number of themes that continue to animate the research agenda of today’s sociology of
punishment. This essay is a revised version of a new Preface written for the 2018
reprint edition of the book that reflects on its findings and method and their relevance
in the current conjuncture.
discourse analysis, genealogy, penal-welfare institutions, social politics, strategies
of control
Punishment and Welfare was researched and written in the late 1970s and early
1980s at a historical moment very different from today. These were the closing
years of the post-war era—a 30-year period of growth and diminishing inequality
brought about by social democracy, managed capitalism, and an expanding wel-
fare state. Many of us who came of age in this exceptional phase of capitalist
development were prone to assume that these settled trends were likely to continue,
with the expansive, empowering, inclusionary forces of mass democracy pressing
towards greater equality and enhanced social justice. But already the ground was
beginning to shift. The 1970s had been a decade of economic stagnation, runaway
inflation, high unemployment, oil crises, and complaints that the British nation
was becoming “ungovernable.” Serious doubts were already being expressed about
the viability of Keynesian formulas for governing the economy and rightwing
critics pointed to the welfare state, the trade unions, and “socialist” politics as
Corresponding author:
David Garland, New York University, 40 Washington Square South, 340 Vanderbilt Hall, New York, NY
10012, USA.
Email: David.Garland@nyu.edu

Punishment & Society 21(3)
the causes of the growing economic malaise and sense of national decline. May
1979 saw the election of Mrs Thatcher, though it would be several years before her
administration developed a distinctive ideology and committed itself to the free-
market fundamentalism and public sector dismantling that would be her long-
term legacy.
We know now that this historical moment was a turning point leading to the
social and economic world that we presently inhabit: a world of resurgent capital,
reduced working class power, neo-liberal policies, and welfare state retrenchment.
But at the start of the 1980s, the balance of power between social democracy and
its opponents appeared much more even. Thatcherism, privatization, the attack on
organized labor, the culture of control, New Right policy prescriptions—all of
these were just beginning to take shape. The future seemed much more open
then than it does in retrospect.
It is true that far-sighted observers such as Stuart Hall (1980) were already
warning about a “drift into a law and order society” and the possibility that the
crisis might give rise to a more authoritarian politics. But many still believed that
contemporary struggles might result in a renewed social democracy—perhaps even
a democratic socialism—that would be more open, more egalitarian, and more
effective in taming capitalism than were the welfare state and mixed economy that
had emerged out of post-war reconstruction.
At the same moment, though for rather different reasons, Britain’s penal insti-
tutions (and their equivalents in the US and elsewhere) were being assailed by
forceful criticism of their underlying philosophy and recurring complaints about
their ineffectiveness and injustice. Like the welfare state project of which it formed
a part, the forward march of penal progress abruptly stalled and its future sud-
denly seemed uncertain.
After the best part of a century during which progressive penology and penal
reform had become synonymous with what Francis Allen (1981) called “the reha-
bilitative ideal”, academics and practitioners began to entertain serious doubts
about the value of that whole framework. And though some of the old guard
pushed back against the critics, insisting that reformative penal institutions were
a mark of moral decency and a civilized society, the most common response was a
retreat into doubt and ambivalence. Liberal elites and penological experts contin-
ued to value social justice, prisoner welfare, and a reformative penology but they
found it impossible to deny the practical problems of actually-existing correction-
alism, or to discount the principled objections that the penal system increasingly
attracted. Practices that had long seemed positive and progressive—such as inde-
terminate sentencing, the individualization of punishment, juvenile courts, or reha-

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