The article examines the grassroots organizing efforts of the Coalition to Stop Institutional Violence, a broad-based alliance of prisoners’ rights, mental patients’ rights, and feminist groups in Greater Boston that opposed the expansion and medicalization of maximum-security units for women in Massachusetts’s prisons and state mental hospitals in the 1970s. The case of the coalition, it argues, illustrates how grassroots feminist opposition to incarceration produced an epistemology of “violence against women” that complicated and contested liberal feminist demands for more aggressive criminalization and law enforcement of sexual and domestic violence during this period. The coalition forged an understanding of institutional violence that linked the politics of mental health to the repressive punishment of women prisoners’ agency, and the expansion of medicalized incarceration to hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexuality. The article explores how activists’ critique of what they termed the “prison/ psychiatric state” engendered alternative conceptions of health, safety, and justice that, in turn, suggest the need for a more capacious understanding of opposition to gendered violence in the feminist 1970s.


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pp. 26-51
Launched on MUSE
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