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Abstract

Modern penal theory, like prevalent western theories of law, adopts a determined model of autonomy, one in which people are separable from social and family contexts. Taken to the criminal law context, this model proposes people can be defined without taking into account the social context. The use of prisons thus presupposes that individuals can be removed from their communities and families to be reeducated, readapted, treated or—in the retributive approach—simply punished. This notion of autonomy, however, hides from sight the group of people who not only maintain family ties with the men and women in prison, but who also, in contexts such as the Latin American one, take on the responsibility of supporting the prisoners economically. As this paper shows, this group is not heterogeneous or plural but defined by gender and primarily constituted of the mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of the people who are imprisoned. The data presented in this paper shows that this group of women is marginalized, impoverished and abused by a criminal justice system that not only omits to recognize the serious costs that the system imposes on them, but also omits to acknowledge their existence. This paper argues that this lack of recognition is possible because it is premised on a penal model that assumes a certain idea of autonomy, one which enables societies to erroneously affirm that prison sentences are individual sentences.

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