The Flesh-Grinder: Prosecutorial Discretion and the Quotidian Terror of Mass Incarceration

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nicholas Brady, University of California, Irvine
The role of Angela Corey in the Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander cases has brought the role of the prosecutor into the light of public scrutiny. Yet, the prosecutorial process remains a mysterious, under-theorized aspect of mass incarceration in the academy. Analysis of the “terrible spectacles” exhibited in the memoirs of prisoners – which Joy Ann James has aptly called neo-slave narratives – has circulated the scenes of police brutality, racial profiling, and life within prisons, while the violence of the prosecutorial process occurs in a vacuum not normally explored by theory. The prosecutorial process is the quotidian space where the arrested, disciplined body is charged. In spite of the routine nature of this act, Paul Butler, a prosecutor who was charged and almost convicted himself, calls this process “the meat-grinder.” Using archival research, memoirs of prosecutors, judges, and prisoners as well as the policy papers and academic work of law professors, this paper will build an intellectual history of the transition period between the end of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the war on drugs to display the libidinal and political impetus behind the political move towards mass incarceration. The major debate the paper will focus on is the debate about the efficiency and success of judicial discretion in order to better understand how the empowerment of the Prosecutor occurs and why it is the major cog in the machine of mass incarceration. Through understanding the historical foundation for the move away from judicial discretion and towards prosecutorial discretion, we illuminate some unseen ways to fight against and perhaps win a political struggle against the rise of mass incarceration.