Decarcerating Disability

Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition

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Liat Ben-Moshe

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Prison abolition and decarceration are increasingly debated, but it is often without taking into account the largest exodus of people from carceral facilities in the twentieth century: the closure of disability institutions and psychiatric hospitals. Decarcerating Disability provides a much-needed corrective, combining a genealogy of deinstitutionalization with critiques of the current prison system.

Liat Ben-Moshe provides groundbreaking case studies that show how abolition is not an unattainable goal but rather a reality, and how it plays out in different arenas of incarceration—antipsychiatry, the field of intellectual disabilities, and the fight against the prison-industrial complex. Ben-Moshe discusses a range of topics, including why deinstitutionalization is often wrongly blamed for the rise in incarceration; who resists decarceration and deinstitutionalization, and the coalitions opposing such resistance; and how understanding deinstitutionalization as a form of residential integration makes visible intersections with racial desegregation. By connecting deinstitutionalization with prison abolition, Decarcerating Disability also illuminates some of the limitations of disability rights and inclusion discourses, as well as tactics such as litigation, in securing freedom.

Decarcerating Disability’s rich analysis of lived experience, history, and culture helps to chart a way out of a failing system of incarceration.


  • rights
    Leroy Moore Jr., “CAGED, Goddamn Philadelphia,” SoundCloud, March 27, 2013,, printed by permission of Leroy F. Moore Jr.

    Chapter 3 was published in a different form as “Dis-epistemologies of Abolition,” Critical Criminology 26, no. 3 (2018): 341–55; reprinted with permission from Springer Nature, copyright 2018. Portions of chapter 4 were published in “Why Prisons Are Not the New Asylums,” Punishment and Society 19, no. 3 (2017): 272–89.

    Copyright 2020 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, MN
  • restrictions
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
  • rights holder
    Regents of the University of Minnesota