Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Therapeutic Arm of the Law

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Therapeutic Arm of the Law

Article excerpt

A fine ethnography reveals how poor Angelenos and the cops control each other, says Dick Hobbs

Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row By Forrest Stuart University of Chicago Press 352pp, £19.50 ISBN 9780226370811 and 70958 (e-book) Published 12 September 2016

The story of the relationship between the police and the urban poor is a familiar one, rife with clichés and lazy assumptions, and usually made without the kind of rigorous empirical evidence provided by Forrest Stuart. He spent five years working on the street corners and in the homeless shelters, flophouses, courthouses and police stations of the Nickel, Los Angeles' skid row, and shows in unflinching detail how, in the post-industrial city, the view from below is far more complex than orthodox liberal commentators usually allow.

The Nickel is the homeless capital of America and a community of last resort for mainly black, undereducated working-age men, many of whom suffer from physical disabilities, mental illness and addiction. While the Keynesian city utilised welfare to protect its citizens from the vagaries of capitalism, neoliberal poverty governance mobilises the state on behalf of the market, and the administration of the poor has been passed on to the private sector, while some social problems have been deinstitutionalised completely. At the same time, an enlarged police and penal state has decanted less-desirable residents from areas primed for redevelopment and gentrification.

Although neoliberalism has increased welfare expenditure, funding has been diverted from the poorest, for its ideological agenda is to incentivise market behaviour. Police attention has shifted towards quality of life laws that in effect criminalise poverty, and it is here, tasked with reintegrating marginal citizens, that "therapeutic policing" comes to the fore, turning police into de facto outreach social workers. …

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