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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


The Injustice of the Carceral System: Reform, re-imagining or abolition?

The Injustice of the Carceral System: Reform, re-imagining or abolition?
Speaker: Ambika Satkunanathan # Open Society Fellow, Sri Lanka
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Date and Time
11th Feb 2021 15:30 - 11th Feb 2021 17:00
Via Zoom

Ambika Satkunanathan, Open Society Fellow, Sri Lanka. 

The Injustice of the Carceral System: Reform, re-imagining or abolition?  

To reduce crime in society we have to transform the way we view crime, punishment, and incarceration and the penal culture in a country/society. We need to study how harm is caused and how human vulnerability is structured. Prisons claim to reduce the vulnerability of society to crime and harm and make them safer. Yet in reality, prisons function not only as sites of harm but generate harm that extends to society. Using the findings of the national study of prisons in Sri Lanka that was led by the speaker, the systemic and structural factors that lead to the criminalization and incarceration of certain populations will be discussed to highlight the discriminatory nature of the carceral system. It will be argued that dealing with crime, violence and harm, requires moving beyond penal populism, simplistic analyses and quick fixes that only the tackle the symptoms, to address the root causes.

Ambika Satkunanathan is an Open Society Fellow (2020-2021). From Oct 2015 to March 2020, she was a Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Prior to that, for eight years, she functioned as the Legal Consultant to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka. Her research, advocacy and activism have focused on transitional justice, custodial violence, prison reform, militarization, gender and Tamil nationalism. Her publications include contributions to the Oxford Handbook of Gender & Conflict, the Routledge Handbook on Human Rights in South Asia, and Contemporary South Asia. She is Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, an indigenous Sri Lankan grant-making organisation and Vice Chairperson of Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific, a regional feminist grant making organisation. Ambika holds a Master of Laws (Human Rights) degree from the University of Nottingham, where she was a Chevening Scholar, and has earned bachelor’s degrees (LL.B / B.A) from Monash University, Australia.  

Damaged fishing boat, Telwatte, July 2005