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Law and Crime

Human Imprisonment, Animal Captivity, Social Justice, and Law

Caged humans and nonhuman animals lose countless freedoms when incarcerated.

Cambridge University Press, with permission.
Source: Cambridge University Press, with permission.

"The goods that animals value stand in stark relief against the lives that we force on them."

Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau are two of the world's leaders in the ethics of captivity (Lori) and prison reform (Justin). I've previously written about their seminal work, and now they've joined forces to produce a highly original and important open-access edited book: Carceral Logics: Human Incarceration and Animal Captivity.1,2

In this transdisciplinary volume of 19 essays, we learn about the intersection between what happens to caged humans and nonhumans, why caging doesn't work for either group of individuals, and why animal law is a "hot field." Carceral Logics sets the standard for what is needed now and in the future for reforming and ending captivity both for caged humans and nonhumans. I'm pleased Lori and Justin could answer a few questions about their landmark book.3,4

Marc Bekoff: Why did you edit Carceral Logics and how does your book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?

Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau: We've been working on a range of legal and philosophical issues that arise in the context of animal protection, emerging punitive legal strategies, and mass incarceration for many years.

We wanted to bring together a variety of people who work on these issues, including you Marc, to deepen the discussion about the role that the law can play specifically in addressing animal cruelty and animal neglect. There is a growing trend within the animal movement to respond to harms committed against animals, usually dogs and other companions, by working to “lock up” people who engage in animal cruelty. While we share the emotional reactions many animal advocates have when animals are subjected to violent treatment by humans, we don’t think sending people to prison is necessarily the wisest response. In fact, in many cases, we doubt that the criminal system will help more than it hurts when it comes to animal protection efforts. We need solutions that are as expansive as our empathy for animals if we want to help animals.

The book focuses on the connection between our complicated, contradictory views about crime and punishment and our complicated, contradictory views about non-human animals. The majority of Americans tend to overlook, abuse, and cage non-human animals. We cage them for our entertainment because they are deemed a nuisance or because we plan to eat them or otherwise use their bodies.

Animal suffering is often invisible under the law and animal dignity is usually ignored within ethics. Scholars and activists have sought to improve the status of animals in law and society in a variety of ways.

But one of the central tactics for promoting justice for animals in animal “law” is the use of the criminal law as a cudgel to make an example out of certain forms of animal cruelty and abuse. Through prosecution and policing, these advocates imagine that violence against animals can achieve an appropriate level of social condemnation. We aren’t convinced this is true, but would like more attention directed to these issues.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

LG and JM: We hope that animal lawyers, law students, advanced undergraduates and graduate students in animal studies courses, as well as activists, will be interested in the volume. We made it open access so that anyone with a computer can read the book.

MB: What are some of your major messages?

LG and JM: We aim to provide readers with a variety of views about the criminal legal system. Some of the authors in this book have only worked on animal protection issues and have very little involvement in the law or in criminal law. Other chapters are by experts on topics of law, such as immigration or domestic violence or drug crimes, who have never previously engaged with the field of animal studies. This array of backgrounds and perspectives will, we hope, provide a larger context for examining carceral logics in animal law.

Animal advocates and animal lawyers can learn a lot from the history of other social justice movements that have tried to use carceral strategies to solve social problems or elevate the status of the “victims” of certain crimes.

There are often unintended consequences and limitations of carceral strategies. Social justice activists, including animal activists, and cause lawyers, including those who work to elevate the status of animals, have often worked within the logic of the law and legal system to try to gain more expansive and inclusive results. But there is always a danger that tinkering within the system creates a sort of release valve that diffuses pressure to fundamentally re-imagine the system. In the realm of animal confinement and human imprisonment, there is a risk that litigation efforts aimed at celebrating the potential of the legal system will tend to legitimize and confirm the very hierarchies and problematic systems that lead to violent oppression against animals.

MB: How does your book differ from others concerned with some of the same general topics?

LG and JM: This is the most comprehensive examination of these topics and it is unique insofar as it gives voice to the varying perspectives and debates. We sought out thoughtful commentators on all sides of these issues and are proud of the range of perspectives presented. We hope that the range of perspectives will provoke more conversations and debates among activists and funders, because at the end of the day this is really not just an abstract, academic topic. This is about how the law can or should be deployed to help animals.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about the downsides of incarceration, they will change their minds about our current penal system?

LG and JM: Above all else, we hope to stimulate debate and further research. We point out contradictions in longstanding animal law dogma, and we challenge under-studied assumptions. We don’t think we have all the answers, but we think that the promise of serving animals in law through a set of flawed or under-researched premises is unlikely.

For example, we take on the antiquated idea that a presumed “link” between human and animal violence justifies more prosecutions or longer sentences for animal law. And we challenge the assumption that animal maltreatment has decreased in the wake of the supposedly successful war on animal crime. Likewise, we push back on general assumptions about the way that labelling animals as victims of crime, or advocating for them in court will reduce animal crime.


In conversation with Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau. The Table of Contents for Carceral Logics: can be found here and the full book here. The book's description reads: Carceral logics permeate our thinking about humans and nonhumans. We imagine that greater punishment will reduce crime and make society safer. We hope that more convictions and policing for animal crimes will keep animals safe and elevate their social status. The dominant approach to human-animal relations is governed by an unjust imbalance of power that subordinates or ignores the interest nonhumans have in freedom. In this volume, Lori Gruen and Justin Marceau invited experts to provide insights into the complicated intersection of issues that arise in thinking about animal law, violence, mass incarceration, and social change. Advocates for enhancing the legal status of animals could learn a great deal from the history of other social movements. Social change lawyers and animal advocates, might learn lessons from each other about the interconnections of oppression as they work to achieve liberation for all.

1) Lori Gruen is William Griffin Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University. She has written on a number of different topics including practical ethics, feminist philosophy, and political philosophy. Her current projects include exploring captivity and the ethical and political questions raised by carceral logics. Justin Marceau is a professor in the Denver University's Sturm College of Law and is a Brooks Institute Faculty Research Scholar of Animal Law and Policy

2) Previous pieces about Lori's work include An Essential and Critical Overview of Animal Studies and The Ethics of Captivity. Previous pieces about Justin's work include Is Treating Abused Animals as Victims Good for the Animals? and Why Are Cages Bad for Nonhumans and OK for Humans?' about his book Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment.

3) I'm especially interested in the topics covered in Carceral Logics because of my work in the Boulder County Jail that can be seen in these links:,,,,,, and

4) Other discussions of animal law include: How Animal Law Applies to Many Areas of Mainstream Practice, Should Wildlife Be Granted the Right to Own Their Homes?, Why Are Cages Bad for Nonhumans and OK for Humans?, The Nonhuman Rights Project: An Interview with Steven Wise, Do Animals Think or Feel?, and Canine Science Shows Dogs Aren't Merely Unfeeling Property.

Pierce, Jessica and Marc Bekoff. Incarcerating Animals and Egregious Losses of Freedoms. In Carceral Logics.

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