The Persistence of the Punitive turn in Latin America: Conditions and Dynamics

Event date
18 January 2024
Event time
15:30 - 17:00
Oxford week
HT 1
Wharton Room - All Souls College (and online)

Maximo Sozzo, National University of Litoral, Argentina

Notes & Changes

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Registration closes at midday on Wednesday 17th January. The Teams link will be sent to you that afternoon.


Since the early 1990s there has been an impressive increase in imprisonment in most Latin American countries, albeit with an important level of variation. For example, in the last three decades, Brazil has increased its imprisonment rate fivefold (currently 390/100,000), Argentina fourfold (currently 227/100,000) and Colombia twofold (currently 199/100,000). In most jurisdictions this increasing trend has continued in recent years. This contrasts with the evolution of imprisonment in other regions of the world (such as many European countries), which also experienced significant growth in the past - especially in the 1980s and 1990s, although in some cases in much more contained proportions - but which in the last decade have shown some stability or even significant levels of decrease (Brandariz, 2022). The main explanations of the "punitive turn" generated in studies of punishment and society in the Global North from the 1990s onwards were built on narratives about a macroscopic, epochal change – such as the rise of “late modernity” or “neoliberalism”- that face difficulties in making sense of these more recent penal mutations in some Northern contexts. For sure, these theoretical frameworks are insufficient for understanding the growth of incarceration in Latin America and its persistence in recent years. This paper proposes an alternative explanation that, tacking stock from these previous elaborations, seeks - following the proposal put forward by Garland (2013) - to combine "deep" and "proximate" conditions and dynamics, based on a comparative analysis of the Latin American cases that have been explored in more detail so far.


Máximo Sozzo

Máximo Sozzo is Professor of Sociology of Law and Criminology at the National University of Litoral (Argentina), where he is also Director of the Programme on Crime & Society and of the Programme of University Education inside Prisons. His research is focused on punishment and society in Latin America. His last books are: Aliverti, H. Carvalho, A. Chamberlain & M. Sozzo (eds): Decolonising the criminal question. Oxford University Press, 2023; M. Langer & M. Sozzo (eds.) Justicia penal y mecanismos de condena sin juicio. Estudios sobre América Latina. Marcial Pons, 2023 and  M. Sozzo (ed.) Prisons, inmates and governance in Latin America. Palgrave, 2022. 

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