Pain in Vain: Penal Abolition and the Legacy of Louk Hulsman

Pain in Vain: Penal Abolition and the Legacy of Louk Hulsman

By Justin Piché (Editor, Translator), Jehanne Hulsman (Translator)

In the 1960s-70s, the abolition of prisons was considered a desirable and viable policy option among a growing number of critical prison scholars and organizers. Penal system bureaucrats and their political masters in several western liberal democracies also sought a significant reduction in the use of incarceration. Yet, despite this rhetoric and the growth of alternatives to incarceration that ensued, prison populations in many parts of the world instead began to soar.

It is in this context that Louk Hulsman, a founder of prison abolitionism, suggested that the abolition of prisons depended not on the creation of community-based sanctions, but on the abolition of criminalization and punishment as a way of thinking about and responding to ‘crime’.

While Hulsman’s call for penal abolition became influential amongst scholars and activists, the complexity of his analysis and its origins have often been overlooked. In part, this is due to the fact that he unpacked his ideas in the greatest depth during a course of interviews with Jacqueline Bernat de Celis in Peines perdues: le système pénal en question (Le centurion, 1982).

This edited anthology seeks to address this gap by providing the de Celis interviews in English for the first time and including reflections by academics, activists, politicians, policymakers, and practitioners analyzing the global impact of Louk Hulsman’s life and work. In so doing, this project highlights the contemporary viability of abolitionism, along with the challenges faced by its proponents.

Table of Contents


Reflections On Contemporary Abolitionist Struggles And The Continued Relevance Of Louk Hulsman’s Insights
7 Justin Piché

Notes On Translation, Language And The Origins Of Pain In Vain
15 Jehanne Hulsman

Part I

Pain In Vain – Challenging The Penal System Interviews With A Penal Abolitionist
23 Louk Hulsman And Jacqueline Bernat De Celis

The Abolitionist Perspective Presented In Two Phases
63 Louk Hulsman And Jacqueline Bernat De Celis

Part II

Toward Penal Abolition – Global Perspectives

Abolition And Dutch Drug Policy: The Process Of Abolition From The Dutch Perspective
149 Andreas Van Agt

Abolishing Penal Abolition: The French Case
153 Philippe Robert

The Impact Of Hulsman’s Ideas On The Control Of Problematic Situations: The Case Of Serbia
173 Djordje Ignjatović And Milana Ljubičić

The Urgency To Challenge The Power To Punish In Brazil: Learning From Louk Hulsman
193 Maria Lucia Karam

Why Criminal Lawyers Ought To Read Peines Perdues
207 Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni

Escaping The Logic Of Crime: Language, Categorization And The Writings Of Louk Hulsman
215 David Scott

Inspirations To Dissent: The Legacy Of Louk Hulsman’s Life/Work
235 Andrea Beckmann

The New Man And The Abolition Of Punishment: Hulsman’s Approach And Its Similarities With The Anarchist Tradition
257 Alejandro Forero Cuéllar

Conclusion: Building On The Legacy Of Louk Hulsman By Addressing Limitations In Early Penal Abolitionist Thought
275 Justin Piché

About The Contributors

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