Academic journal article Social Justice

"Keep Local Kids Local": Departed Capital, Derelict Land, and (Neo)Liberal Detention

Academic journal article Social Justice

"Keep Local Kids Local": Departed Capital, Derelict Land, and (Neo)Liberal Detention

Article excerpt

For the first time in four decades, there is some indication that North Americans are beginning to rethink mass incarceration. More than two dozen state governments have partnered with policy organizations to strategize about corrections reform through "justice reinvestment strategies." (1) Attorney General Eric Holder announced federal drug law reform and directed federal prosecutors to actively avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentencing laws. (2) Critiques of mass incarceration have even emerged from the Right. (3) It remains to be seen, however, whether these initiatives beget meaningful reform or inscribe carceral logic into seemingly new policies and processes. Indeed, California, the bellwether state for prison policy, passed Assembly Bills 109 and 117 in 2011, pursuing what it calls Public Safety Realignment and putting more emphasis on local jails for some nonviolent offenses. (4)

In the context of both conservative calls for prison reform and the transfer of increased control to the counties, it seems especially unsuitable for progressive communities to pursue carceral expansion. This article, based on two years of ethnographic research, examines such incongruity in a small city I call Springfield, a Midwestern "college town" home to a little over 100,000 people and a large university. (5) Springfield, and the surrounding Lincoln County, boasted political and criminal justice leadership comprised almost exclusively of liberal and progressive elected officials. This article relies on fieldwork with these officials to examine their energetic and passionate pursuit of a "justice campus." Comprised of a new adult jail, a juvenile facility, a work release center and new law enforcement offices, the campus would sit on 85 acres that had been abandoned by industry in the late 1990s. The constitutive institutions of the campus would each exponentially expand the number of incarcerated and supervised persons in the county. Local officials justified the project as an articulation of local benevolent justice; the campus, they frequently argued, would reject the logic and practices of the carceral state. Even the few officials who were hesitant about or critical of the plan supported the construction of the juvenile facility.

In rhetorically rejecting mass incarceration but materially replicating its logic and practices, local officials and others in the community demonstrated the capacity of carceral logic to structure individual, community, and institutional dispositions (Kramer, Rajah, and Sung 2013). Elsewhere, I have called the inscription of dominant carceral ideology even into oppositional bodies "carceral habitus" (Schept 2013) and proposed that the latter--i.e., our internalization of neoliberal responsibilization, racialized constructs of criminality, and cultural embraces of punishment--can explain much of how communities come to participate in the carceral state even as they purport to resist and reject it.

The ideological work of incarceration succeeded in part through its reliance on resonant tropes that framed carceral expansion as a project of therapeutic justice and rehabilitation rather than punishment. This was only possible because of a particular historical geography that produced a spatial and political landscape on which officials could project their visions. The 85-acre space for the justice campus was formerly the home of a large factory for a multinational corporation. Following that company's departure from the community, officials began to mobilize a carceral vision for the derelict land. Labeled a "campus" and originally designed just as a juvenile facility, the proposed development could easily rely on the language of rehabilitation and treatment. The discourse had two distinctive though interrelated threads: (1) the construction of local subjectivities, including an exceptional practitioner and a youth population in need of saving (as well as a concurrent population of non-local youth from whom "our" youth needed protection); and (2) a vividly imagined justice campus that would aid local youth. …

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