Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘loic wacquant

Attention Journalists, Sociologists, Grad Students, etc.: Spotlight Needed on the Nation’s Local Jails

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Rikers Island, America's largest psychiatric facility (photo: Paul Lowry)

Although this blog is titled Prison Law Blog, I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t put jail into the title somewhere. I’ve blogged before about how Rikers Island has become America’s largest mental health facility (more here), and about the myriad problems that plague the nation’s overcrowded, underfunded local jails. In the new Daedalus issue on mass incarceration that I mentioned last week, Loic Wacquant argues that students of the American criminal justice system would do well to turn their focus on jails:

As a result of intensified policing coupled with a rising propensity to confine miscreants, American jails have become gargantuan operations processing a dozen million bodies each year nationwide, as well as huge drains on the budgets of counties and pivotal institutions in the lives of the (sub)proletariat of the big cities. Indeed, because they treat vastly more people than do prisons, under conditions that are more chaotic due to high turnover, endemic overcrowding, population heterogeneity, and the administrative shift to bare-bones managerialism (the two top priorities of jail wardens are to minimize violent incidents and to hold down staff overtime), jails create more social disruption and family turmoil at the bottom of the urban order than do prisons. Yet they have remained largely under the radar of researchers and policy analysts alike.

Wacquant’s comments ring especially true with respect to places like New Orleans that have relied heavily on detention as both a crime control strategy for serious crimes (though often without charges ever being filed) and a revenue generation strategy for minor offenses, as described in this recent Crime Report interview: Read the rest of this entry »

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Is It Time to Retire the Phrase “Mass Incarceration”?

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Loic Wacquant:

Mass incarceration is a mischaracterization of what is better termed hyperincarceration. … Mass incarceration suggests that confinement concerns large swaths of the citizenry (as with the mass media, mass culture, and mass unemployment), implying that the penal net has been flung far and wide across social space. This is triply inaccurate. First, the prevalence of penal confinement in the United States, while extreme by international standards, can hardly be said to concern the masses. Indeed, a rate of 0.75 percent compares quite favorably with the incidence of such woes as latent tuberculosis infection (estimated at 4.2 percent) and severe alcohol dependency (3.81 percent), ailments which no one would seriously contend have reached mass proportions in the United States. Next, the expansion and intensification of the activities of the police, courts, and prison over the past quarter-century have been anything but broad and indiscriminate. They have been finely targeted, first by class, second by that disguised brand of ethnicity called race, and third by place. This cumulative targeting has led to the hyperincarceration of one particular category, lower-class African American men trapped in the crumbling ghetto, while leaving the rest of society — including, most remarkably, middle- and upper-class African Americans — practically untouched. Third, and more important still, this triple selectivity is a constitutive property of the phenomenon: had the penal state been rolled out indiscriminately by policies resulting in the capture of vast numbers of whites and well-to-do citizens, capsizing their families and decimating their neighborhoods as it has for inner-city African Americans, its growth would have been speedily derailed and eventually stopped by political counteraction.

Bob Weisberg & Joan Petersilia: Read the rest of this entry »

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