Waste Managers? the New Penology, Crime Fighting, and Parole Agent Identity

By Lynch, Mona | Law & Society Review, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Waste Managers? the New Penology, Crime Fighting, and Parole Agent Identity


Lynch, Mona, Law & Society Review


This ethnographic research, conducted in a parole field office in central California, looks at how Feeley and Simon's (1992) "new penology" paradigm plays out at the level of implementation, given competing pressures on agents to be tough on crime as well as successful danger "risk managers." Findings suggest that agents embrace a traditional law enforcement role for themselves that primarily takes an individualistic approach to the clientele and an intuitive approach to their management, rather than taking on the new penological role of actuarial risk managers defined by upper management. The agents were influenced by the popular discourse on crime in defining their priorities and actively subverted directives management issued to reorder those priorities. As Simon (1993) foreshadowed in his work on parole, the agents in this setting did not appear poised to become mere human waste managers."

In their conceptualization of the "new penology," Feeley and Simon (1992) argue that over the past few decades, a systems analysis approach to danger management has come to dominate criminal justice administration, and they suggest that the penal enterprise may well be evolving into a "waste management" system rather than a normalizing or rehabilitative one. In their model, those in the dangerous class of criminals are nearly synonymous with those in the larger social category of the underclass, a segment of the population that has been abandoned to a fate of poverty and despair. Ultimately, Feeley and Simon imply a deep institutional cynicism about the redemptability of this class in their suggestion that contemporary corrections may be inevitably heading toward an operational goal "of herding a specific population that cannot be disaggregated and transformed but only maintained-a kind of waste management function" (p. 470). Simon (1993) fleshes out the waste management analogy in his discussion of the potential futures for corrections. Since any investment in this dangerous class would be deemed futile, the waste management model would entail securing its members at the lowest possible cost. The "toxic waste" containment sites (Simon 1993:260) would be the underclass communities where those under the control of community corrections would be required to live, and in this potential postmodern penal world, front-line crime control workers would merely manage and distribute dangerous bodies, with little affective or relational involvement (Simon 1993).

The pursuit of this goal of managing dangerous populations (or "waste managing") is manifested in the language and strategies of the "new penology." Specifically, Feeley and Simon (1992) delineate three distinct elements to the new penology: First, it is manifested in a new discourse that emphasizes risk and probability as applied to a criminal population rather than diagnosis or moralistic judgments of individual wrongdoers. Second, they posit that the new penology is reflected in objectives transformed from an earlier emphasis on punishing or normalizing deviants to a current focus on identifying and managing classes of criminals. Finally, they argue that this shift in objectives has triggered the development of a new set of techniques for carrying out the goals of classifying and controlling aggregate risk, including the use of drug testing to measure risk and statistical/ actuarial methods for setting risk level.

At the heart of what distinguishes the "old" from the "new" penology is the relative abandonment of the individual in defining and managing criminal populations. The individual, in old penology, is a volitional actor who can be reformed, treated, or punished; thus, his motivation for criminal behavior is an important element to determining appropriate penal action. While old penological policies may refer to aggregates and categories of criminals, the interventions are distinctly aimed at changing the criminal actors or "individuals."' In contrast, new penological strategies, according to Feeley and Simon (1992), are not concerned with why criminals commit their illegal acts but rather with how to most efficiently manage the level of reoffending risk posed by them. …

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Waste Managers? the New Penology, Crime Fighting, and Parole Agent Identity
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