Neo-Liberal America and the Carceral State

AHA Session 248
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael Graziano, Florida State University
Doran Larson, Hamilton College

Session Abstract

By the late 1960s, noted scholars Michele Foucault and David Rothman predicted that the state would soon phase out state-sanctioned incarceration as its preferred form of punishment.  Little did they know that roughly ten years later, prison populations would explode as the state began an unprecedented wave of incarceration. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than the United States, which despite comprising less than five percent of the global population, currently incarcerates roughly twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners.  Simply put, no nation in human history has incarcerated more people per capita than twenty-first-century America.  The proposed panel explores recent penological trends by examining previously neglected aspects of the incarceration epidemic. 

For example, though many of the proponents of the get-tough-on-crime movement claimed to champion smaller government, as Melanie Newport persuasively argues in “The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the Construction of the American Carceral State,” they constructed an extensive and far-reaching bureaucracy that actually expanded the state’s power and reach.  She concludes that state-building was an inseparable component of the carceral nation.  Similarly, Nicholas Brady examines the evolving administrative structure behind mass incarceration.  In his paper, he explores the evolution of prosecutorial powers, which can serve to either increase or stem the tide of mass incarceration. 

In “’Put the State on Trial’: The New Afrikan Prisoner Organization and the Pontiac Prison Rebellion, 1977-1982,” Toussaint Losier examines the familiar theme of race and prison; however, he explores the overlooked role of black nationalist groups who protested the expansion of incarceration during its incipient stages.  In the process, he argues that prison expansion predated the Reagan Presidency.  Finally, Brad Stoddard explores the role of religion, law, and incarceration in Florida’s faith- and character-based prisons.  Stoddard traces the history of faith- and character-based prisons, where the state relies on religious programming in order to prevent recidivism.  Stoddard argues that the legislation that created these prisons marks a new era in establishment clause jurisprudence, as it subordinates the state to privatized religion in an effort to overcome constitutional objections to the mingling of religion and state. 

Collectively, these papers provide refreshing and innovate approaches to studying the carceral nation.  Our panel honors the AHA’s commitment to diversity, as we’ve deliberately constructed a racially-diverse panel of men and women.  Our panel is relevant to the theme of “Disagreement, Debate, and Discussion,” as we challenge commonly-held truths in the study of punishment and penology.  We look forward to contributing to the larger conversation related to mass incarceration and the rise of the penal state.

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