#LSANOLA16 Preview: Ethnographic Explorations of Illegalities, Penality, and Risk/Security Part II


Thursday, June 2nd 2:45-4:30pm
Balcony M (4th floor)

These three linked sessions present detailed ethnographic examinations of the legal governance of crime, punishment, risk and security. Papers in Part II, presented here, consider the racial, gendered, and class dynamics of mass incarceration, and broader processes of expanding carceral fields beyond imprisonment. Cutting across an array of topics (including the construction of illegality, policing, pretrial detention, mental health courts, sentencing mitigation, and post-prison experiences), this series of panels interrogates the practices, effects (material and semiotic) and rationalities at play in the governance of il/legality in specific settings. In doing so, these panels shed light on the entanglements between law and security (for example, the presumption of law’s instrumental role in promoting security), as well as on the ways in which social order is understood through the lens of criminal risk and crime control. In addition to generating discussion about the substantive foci of the papers, these panels are envisioned as an opportunity to reflect on the potential contributions of ethnography as a modality for exploring legality.

Chair: Robert Werth (Rice University)
Discussant: William Garriott (Drake University)
Papers: Allison McKim, Robert Werth, Forrest Stuart, Alessandro de Giorgi, Kaya Williams

Addicted to Punishment: Racialized Drug Rehabilitation and the Governance of Inequality
Allison McKim, Bard College

After decades of war on drugs and prison expansion, we are finally seeing inklings of reform. Nearly everyone points to the same solution: addiction treatment.. Addiction treatment is thus a strategy of governance shared by many institutions, borrowing from Jonathan Simon (2007) I call this “governing through addiction.” There is a long tradition of scholarship that reveals similarities between penal practices and the forms of regulation found in other institutions, including Erving Goffman (1961), Michel Foucault (1977), and more recently Jonathan Simon (2007). Inspired by this work, I set out to compare addiction treatment inside and outside the carceral state. I conducted ethnographic research in two residential rehabs for women. One, which I call WTS, is funded by the criminal justice system to offer a wide array of vocational and therapeutic services. It houses women mandated by the courts or parole. The other, Gladstone Lodge is a private health insurance-funded facility with no formal ties to the penal/welfare state. This comparison suggests that similar discourses can result in different modes of governance. In particular, it reveals the importance of conceptualizing punishment as a distinct kind of power relation, one with a unique ability stigmatize and control. In the era of mass incarceration, this stigma is profoundly racialized. Thus at WTS, it is criminalized women who are addicted to punishment, not us. Finally, I challenge the value of using addiction discourse to understand and ameliorate race, class, and gender subordination.

From the actuarial to the affective: Considering Affect, Rapport and Intimacy within Parole
Robert Werth, Rice University

In this paper, I focus on the role of affect within parole evaluation. Risk rationalities and actuarial technologies have proliferated within the penal field and reshaped evaluative practices in this realm (e.g., Castel 1991, Simon 1993, Harcourt 2007, Hannah-Moffat 2013). Yet this articles documents the way in which assessment is a multiply informed assemblage that bridges actuarial knowledges, moral judgments and affect. In this setting, agents regularly consult an actuarial risk score (the California Static Risk Assessment), yet remain skeptical of its ability to accurately evaluate individuals. It is perceived as an impersonal and overly standardized way of knowing. In this way, directly interacting with and observing individuals, and making affective and moral judgments based on these interactions, is privileged as a more nuanced and accurate way to come to know individuals. At the core of this is a sense of possessing professional knowledge, gained through training and experience, that allows parole personnel to interpret information, assess moral character and, in the process, evaluate individuals. The term expertise was itself avoided by field personnel, who instead referenced their ‘professional judgment’ or ‘experience’. But as a form of experiential expertise, professional knowledge anchors and legitimizes their efforts to anticipate risk. I contend that it is imperative to acknowledge and explore the role of affect within agents ‘informal’ evaluations, professional judgment, and intuition. In response to a question about how he evaluated clients, Rich, an agent, said, “Gut feeling…I know that’s not a very sexy answer. But it’s the truth. You just, sometimes, or most of the time, get a feel for somebody.” In this setting, “intuition”, rather than being denied, was openly acknowledged as a part of this process. Sometimes referred to as ‘gut feeling’, ‘instinct’, or ‘feel’, agents routinely expressed that they were actively interpreting information through their intuition – a practical wisdom or phronesis (see Valverde 2009) – that allows them to develop a sense about clients and their risk. Individuals often struggled to unpack how specifically intuition takes shapes. It displays a taken-for-granted nature; it is a nearly invisible yet obvious mandate undergirded by their professional knowledge. In questioning standardized and actuarial assessments and privileging their professional judgment, parole personnel are ensuring a space for affect to inform evaluation. As Brennan (2004) notes, “affects animate the relational space between individuals, refusing self-containment.” In carving a space for moral judgments and intuition, agents allow room for affect, as the “myriad of feelings that exceed and subvert the range of available expression”. In fact, for many agents, their skepticism regarding actuarial evaluation is rooted in their inability to allow a space for affect. For example, Fred, an agent, explained that “until they can create a machine that can look into someone’s eyes and read that person, I ain’t too worried about what they say.”

Doing Innocence, Doing Gender: Criminal Masculinities, Accountability, and the Gender Consequences of Aggressive Policing
Forrest Stuart, University of Chicago

The current article examines the expressly gendering effects of aggressive policing-that is, how recurring police contact affects the daily gender performances, relations, and categories in heavily-policed communities. These are consequences that largely elude (or are not yet accounted for in) population surveys and large-scale datasets. The following analysis unites two subfields of sociology – the sociology of punishment and the sociology of gender. Each provide key conceptual tools. Sociologists of punishment call attention to the unintended, though powerful capacity of crime control practices to produce and reproduce the shared social categories and authoritative classifications through which individuals and groups understand each other and themselves (Garland 1990; Rios 2011). The sociology of gender provides an interactional model-referred to as “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987)-for understanding how these shared categories and classifications, specifically those related to gender, constitute routine, methodical, and situated accomplishments. Bridging these two fields allows our analysis to illustrate a prevalent and concrete pathway by which larger, cultural ideologies and representations of gender are transmitted, acted upon, and institutionalized through the state’s policing apparatus. Drawing on a year of fieldwork alongside young black men and women in heavily-policed neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side, as well as 80 in-depth interviews with these youth, we show that in order to reduce their possibilities of becoming subject to a stop-and-frisk, youth engage in cooperative and consequential gender performances. These performances, which youth themselves refer to as “getting cover,” are explicitly designed to negate the outward signs that officers perceive as evidence of criminality. Anticipating that officers are most likely to stop-and-frisk “hypermasculine” individuals that engage in displays of toughness, emotional restrictiveness, and proclivity for violence, youth make explicit efforts to project what we term “intimate masculinity,” which consist of exaggerated displays of vulnerability, emotional sensitivity, and lovingness. Thus, through the disproportionate policing of poor and minority neighborhoods, the state coercively channels residents of such communities toward particular gender performances and relations under the constant threat of legal punishments. gender in varying social contexts.

Reentry to Nothing: Urban Marginality in the Shadows of Mass Incarceration
Alessandro De Giorgi, San Jose State University

As of 2014, 2.3 million people were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, whereas close to 7 million individuals are currently under some form of penal control (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015). However, scholars have paid less attention to the corollary of mass incarceration: former prisoners’ attempts to reenter a society that has not invested in effective systems of social support to ease their integration. The cycle of incarceration and reentry has become a significant factor in the reproduction of social inequality-a circumstance compounded by the invisibility of the affected populations (Pettit, 2012). This paper draws from a 3-year ethnographic study of the personal narratives and lived experiences a group of ex prisoners who face the challenge of “reintegrating” in Oakland-a formerly industrial city that has witnessed an acute deindustrialization in the 1980s, which has transformed its once vibrant minority neighborhoods into desolated urban flatlands. The fieldwork was conducted in an area of West Oakland plagued by poverty, unemployment, homelessness, drug abuse, and street crime-a post-industrial “hyper-ghetto”, to borrow Wacquant’s definition (2009). Over the past decade, the neighborhood has been transformed into a “service ghetto” characterized by a high concentration of organizations that provide basic services to the large population of poor and marginalized people, including former prisoners and their families, who reside in the neighborhood. Based on my research on subjects’ lived experiences, it is clear that the very notion of “successful reentry” that underlies current criminal justice policies does not set reentering prisoners on a path to social inclusion and economic advancement, but rather further entrenches their socioeconomic marginality. Indeed, in the wake of broad cost-reduction strategies affecting community supervision programs such as parole and probation, the experiences of these returning prisoners suggest the emergence of a low-intensity/low-cost model of urban containment that devolves largely to market forces and private actors and is aimed at the variously disenfranchised populations inhabiting the urban ghetto: ex-prisoners, parolees, homeless persons, individuals suffering from mental illness or substance addiction, and chronically unemployed men and women. This barely regulated collection of private forces, backed by the ever-present threat of prison or jail, is all that is left in a postindustrial “ghost-town” stripped bare of the community networks and welfare services that populated the neighborhoods before the penal experiment of the 1980s and 1990s. In this paper, I will present some materials from the field in an attempt to illuminate the survival strategies adopted by ex-prisoners and their families as they return to their dilapidated communities and once again join the swelling ranks of the urban poor.

Risk/Averse: Pretrial Risk and Pretrial Incarceration in New Orleans, Louisiana
Kaya Williams, University of Chicago

On March 5, 2013 a young man named Akein Scott was arrested in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana on several charges, including one charge of illegal carrying of weapons. After spending close to two months in jail awaiting trial, Scott’s bond was reduced and his family was able to pay the money required to secure his freedom. About three weeks after his release, on May 12, he and his brother shot into a crowd at a Mother’s Day parade, injuring 20 people. In the aftermath of the shooting, one of the recipients of blame was New Orleans Pretrial Services: a relatively new organization in New Orleans criminal justice system. Pretrial Services staff conduct risk assessments of all individuals arrested on state charges in New Orleans. These assessments are designed to help inform judges’ decision to hold individuals in jail pretrial, release them, or set financial bond. If something like the Mother’s Day shooting could happen, critics argued, it is because programs like Pretrial Services encourage the release of dangerous individuals through faulty and unverified assessments of risk. In other words, many argued, because Akein Scott had been arrested previously on a gun charge, he should never have been released from jail. While from the perspective of Pretrial Services risk assessment instrument, his prior arrest was simply one of several “risk factors” contributing to his overall score, from another perspective that prior arrest was a warning sign Pretrial Services helped ignore. This paper will attempt to show what a careful ethnographic engagement with the concept of risk might reveal about the logics underlying New Orleans’ high rate of pretrial incarceration. Approaching “risk” ethnographically as a type of anticipatory knowledge, this paper will show how the calculations intended to inform release decisions are made, and will trace the different ways in which the numerical product of that calculation is picked up or refused by actors within the criminal justice system. Today, from the perspective of validated research instruments, blackness itself is an indicator of future criminality. Recently, the discipline of anthropology has taken an interest in the social life of what might be called anticipatory knowledges. Anthropologists working across the globe have asked how actuarial models of calculation (such as risk) work within logics of preemption and disaster (Massumi 2007, 2011), of military security (Masco 2014), of health and prognosis (Jain 2013), and of finance (Zaloom 2004). This paper aims to bring the anthropological literature into conversation with the literature on criminal justice policy that engages risk, through a specific ethnographic engagement with pretrial incarceration in New Orleans. The paper will use this data to make an argument that the creation, validation, and use of a risk assessment is a social process, and one that reveals a great deal about American understandings of race, criminality, and public safety. It will examine the different forms of risk at play in cases such as the one outlined above: from the risk to public safety of a potential future violent crime to the risk to the individual of serious injury or death in jail to the risk to judicial political futures of releasing someone who might re-offend. Finally, this paper aims to make a case for the contributions ethnography can bring to discussions of criminal justice policy.

About Jennifer Curtis

Jennifer Curtis is an Honorary Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh: http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/staff/social_anthropology/curtis_jennifer.

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