The following page provides a reproduction of the symposium program for the symposium: "The Problem of Punishment: Race, Inequality and Justice," including audio recordings for a majority of the panels in the "Schedule." The 2009 symposium resulted in the collection The Punitive Turn: New Approcahes to Race and Incarceration edited by Deborah E. McDowell, Claudrena N. Harold, and Juan Battle, which became part of "the Carter G. Woodson Institute Series" at the University of Virginia Press.
“Democratic rights and liberties are defined in relation to what is denied to people in prison. So we might ask, what kind of democracy do we currently inhabit?” — Angela Y. Davis
Organized by faculty members in the Departments of English (Deborah McDowell), History (Claudrena Harold) and Politics (Vesla Weaver), this multi-disciplinary symposium, sponsored by the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, will examine the historical, political, economic, and socio-cultural roots, as well as the myriad implications of the rise in incarceration in the United States. We briefly summarize the goals for the symposium and review crucial developments that serve as its motivation.
Due largely to several important policy changes connected to the “War on Crime” and the “War on Drugs,” the prison population has climbed steeply since the 1970s, an escalation resulting in the following developments:
The State of the Justice System
- The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration and death row inmates, holding 25% of the world’s prison population but only 5% of the world’s people.
- Since 1973, incarceration rates have risen by a factor of six, even as crime statistics have fallen. There are now three times as many offenders released each year as compared to the entire prison population in 1973.
- The prison industry is one of the most rapidly growing industries in the United States, now employing more than Wal-Mart, General Motors, and Ford combined.
- Allocations for criminal justice have quadrupled over the past four decades. State spending on corrections doubled over the past two decades. Criminal justice has become a major source of government funds, absorbing an ever increasing share of public resources. Today, government contributes more to criminal justice than to all income maintenance and unemployment expenditures combined.
- The criminal justice system represents a new racial cleavage in America. In stark contrast to the watershed political gains blacks made in the decades since the zenith of the civil rights movement, prison has become a normal part of life for one in three black men in their twenties. While African Americans constitute 12.4 percent of the population, they comprise more than half of all prison inmates. A mere two decades ago they comprised one-third of the inmate population.
The trends outlined above were hastened by major policy changes affecting the ways in which the criminal justice system dealt with offenders before, during, and after sentencing. Punitive policies like mandatory minimums were passed largely without public debate. But while these statistics and the policy changes that led to their acceleration are among the most shocking developments in modern history, at best they have received uneven scholarly attention; at worst, they are routinely neglected in many fields: political science, economics, and psychology.
The Aim of the Symposium
The aim of this symposium, therefore, is to promote a serious, informed dialogue that will contribute to a growing national debate on the growth of the carceral state. We envision an intimate symposium featuring experts across the disciplines as well as policy practitioners. We will convene on the first day of the symposium with two panels focusing specifically on exploring the causes of the growth of the carceral state and growing racial disparities within it. The opening panel will consider the theoretical and historical foundations of rising imprisonment and shifting policy choices. The second will explore the politics of punishment and race. Following this session Angela Davis (author most recently of Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire and Are Prisons Obsolete?) will deliver a keynote address. On Friday, April 17, we will shift our attention to research that evaluates the consequences and implications of the rise in imprisonment. In these three panels, scholars will focus on the myriad implications of rising prison rates for forms of economic, social, and political exclusion in the United States.
April 16–17, 2009
Presented by the
Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.
This symposium is free and open to the public
Angela Y. Davis
Political Activist and Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz
The conference is held over two days:
- Thursday, April 16, with evening keynote address and roundtable
- Friday, April 17
Thursday, April 16: Rotunda Dome Room
Deborah McDowell, Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute
The Historical Foundation of Race & Punishment
Race and Criminal Justice in the Contemporary Era
Thursday Afternoon & Evening Events
Please note the location. Consult the University Map for directions.
Focus on virginia: a roundtable on prison and its aftermath, featuring
Minor Hall Auditorium (Room 125)
|5:45–6:30||RECEPTION||Minor Hall Lobby|
Angela Y. Davis:
|Newcomb Hall Ballroom|
Friday, April 17: Minor Hall Auditorium (Room 125)
The Racial Politics of Punishment: Democracy, Citizenship, and Political Inclusion
The Collateral Consequences of Punishment: Racial Disparities in Employment, Health, and Family Welfare
Prison in the Popular Imagination:
MICHELLE ALEXANDER - Ohio State University, Associate Professor of Law
Professor Alexander holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University. Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. She also served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California for several years, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement
Race, Drugs and the New Jim Crow
Professor Alexander will argue that mass incarceration is the latest incarnation of racialized social control in the United States, following slavery and Jim Crow. Although this new system of control is officially "colorblind," it functions to create and maintain racial hierarchy nearly as effectively as earlier systems of control. By labeling young African American males "criminals" in their youth, and then circulating them through prisons and racially defined ghettos, the new system achieves and perpetuates racial segregation. It also imposes a permanent second-class status on the majority of young black men in urban communities across America. Those labeled felons find that, upon release from prison, they are ushered into a parallel social universe in which they are denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and subject to legal discrimination in employment, housing, public education and benefits - a legal regime strikingly similar to Jim Crow.
SANDY ALEXANDRE - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Assistant Professor of American Literature
Professor Alexandre is a former Woodson Institute pre-doctoral fellow. Her forthcoming first book,The Lynching Diaspora: Strange Fruits of Violence, analyzes how what she calls "the ecology of lynching violence" necessarily informs the ways in which black-American artists reappraise the popularity of the pastoral idyll in American literature and culture.She is also at work on her second book, which looks at the ways we might transform our understanding of "race" by examing how the very practice of race changes with age, biography, and generation. Her research interests include African-American studies, visual studies, and southern studies.
KIM BLANKENSHIP - Duke University, Professor of Sociology and Global Health Institute Research Professor
Kim M. Blankenship recently joined the faculty at Duke University as an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Sociology and at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI). At DGHI she is responsible for overseeing the strategic research initiative in gender, poverty and health. Prior to arriving at Duke, she was at Yale University’s School of Public Health and served as the Associate Director of Yale’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS. Dr. Blankenship’s research focuses on the interconnections among gender, class, race and health, with a focus on HIV/AIDS. In particular, she is interested in how these intersecting inequalities produce health risks and in how structural interventions can alter this context to ensure better health outcomes. Current projects include analysis of the implementation and impact of community led structural interventions to address HIV risk in female sex workers in India; and a study of the impact of involvement in the criminal justice system on HIV risk among drug users in Connecticut.
Incarceration, Sexual Relationships and Race Disparities in HIV/AIDS
Although the number of reported AIDS cases and HIV infections has declined over the last decade, these declines have been greater for Whites than for Blacks. Thus, racial disparities in HIV/AIDS persist. While they comprise less than 13% of the population, Blacks represent 42% of all AIDS cases reported in the US through 2005 and 46% of all new HIV infections in 2006. There are marked gender differences in these disparities as well, with HIV incidence among Black men 5.9 times that among White men, and HIV incidence among Black women 14.7 times that among White women. In this talk, I will draw from qualitative and survey data that I have collected from recently released drug users in New Haven, CT, to discuss how massive incarceration, particularly among Blacks, may contribute to these racial and gender disparities in HIV/AIDS. Specifically, I will describe the impact of the movement in and out of the criminal justice system on sexual and family relationships, economic opportunities, and residential stability, and subsequently on HIV related sexual risk behaviors.
VICTOR CABAS - Hampden-Sydney College Professor of Rhetoric
Blues, Work Songs and Hollers: Crime and Punishment in Story and Song
From the advent of Jim Crow until at least the 1960s, the prison farm system of the former Confederate States forced labor gangs of African American men and women to work in conditions much like the slave labor camps of Nazi Germany. An unintended benefit of these prison farms was to preserve two musical traditions: the field holler and the work song, which had all but died out following sharecropping. A third form arose out of these two, influenced by commercial race records: the prison blues. Recorded by men like John Lomax, who sought uncensored examples of the African American folk tradition, the prison blues gave prisoners like Leadbelly a chance to name names and expose for posterity the racial inequities of crime and punishment as in such songs as “The Midnight Special.” For a commercial bluesman like Robert Johnson, however, such critiques could only be encoded, as in his famous “Crossroads Blues.”
MARY ELLEN CURTIN - George Washington University, Department of History
Mary Ellen Curtin is the author of Black Prisoners and Their World (University Press of Virginia, 2000), a history of the convict leasing system in late nineteenth century Alabama. Professor Curtin's scholarly interests span a wide range of issues concerning the African American experience in the South after emancipation. Her upcoming book Ahead of Her Time: Barbara Jordan and the New Politics of Race in America (University of Pennsylvania Press) explores the early life, political career, and historical significance of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Houston, Texas, the first Black woman from the South elected to Congress.
"Please Hear Our Cries": Slavery, the Unfree, and the Hidden History of Black Prisoners in America, 1910–1955
This paper addresses the relationship between slavery and the African American prison experience in the South during the age of segregation. Specifically, it compares the extradition trials of escaped prisoners in the early 20th century with the persecution of runaway slaves under the Fugitive Slave Act. Drawing on the legal files of the extradition trials of escaped southern prisoners contained in the records of the NAACP, the paper examines the conditions of southern prisons in the first half of the twentieth century. It gives special consideration to the family and community ties of prisoners and the reactions of northerners to the plight of southern prison runaways. The NAACP records can help to answer a number of questions: 1) What was at stake in the retrieval of runaways and why did southern states insist on their return? 2) Did they perceive of escaped prisoners as “property"? 3) To what extent did methods for controlling prisoners, punishing them, and getting public support for their re-capture borrow from methods used in slavery? 4) Did the public trials of runaways in the North and West raise awareness and outrage about southern segregation, southern justice, and white supremacy? 5) What was the relationship of runaway prisoners to their communities? 6) To what extent is the comparison of early twentieth century southern prison camps to slavery an apt one? 7) How has the legacy of slavery helped to establish a standard for the treatment of prisoners that persists to this day?
ANGELA Y. DAVIS - Political Activist and Professor Emeritus, University of California -Santa Cruz
Professor Davis is internationally renowned for her work on issues of feminism, African-American studies, social consciousness, and philosophy of punishment, particularly pertaining to women’s jails and prisons.
Professor Davis's long-standing commitment to prisoners' rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment. Today she remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Prison Activist Resource Center, and currently at work on a comparative study of women's imprisonment in the U.S., the Netherlands, and Cuba.
Ms. Davis is the author of five books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography; Women, Race, and Class; Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday; The Angela Y. Davis Reader; and her most current book, Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
* Keynote Address: Surveillance, Imprisonment and the Quotidian Work of Race *
ALEESHA FOWLER - Fouth Year Student in the Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Ms. Fowler has focused her studies on racial politics throughout her undergraduate career. She is especially interested in studying the ways in which such cross-cutting identities as gender and sexuality, influence racial and ethnic identity.
Aleesha just recently landed a summer internship with the Virginia Organizing Project, a grassroots organization committed to protecting the civil rights and liberties of Virginia residents, and empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect the quality of their lives. In the fall of 2009, Aleesha plans to attend law school to pursue a J.D. in Constitutional Law.
Felon Disenfranchisement and American Citizenship
Although voting is widely understood as a central element of American citizenship, over 5 million Americans have lost the right to vote due to a prior felony conviction. Aleesha Fowler's research examines the effect of felon disenfranchisement on the citizenship of those directly affected by this policy. In this talk, she unpacks the effect of felon disenfranchisement on citizens’ sense of belonging in the polity and level of engagement in politics. Ms. Fowler conducted a series of in-depth interviews with former felons in the state of Virginia, one of just two states that permanently disenfranchises those with a felony conviction. Fowler's findings overall suggest that, while felon disenfranchisement negatively affects individuals’ perceptions of their own citizenship status, it did not appear to negatively affect political engagement, a finding that she attributes to Barack Obama’s historic candidacy.
ADOM GETACHEW - Fourth Year Double Major in the Department of Politics and African-American Studies, University of Virginia
Adom Getachew is a fourth year student majoring in African-American studies and the Politics Honors program. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she is now a resident of Arlington, VA. At the University, Adom is a Jefferson Scholar and Honorary Holland Scholar. She served as Student Member to the Board of Visitors during the 2008-2009 academic year.
Adom's academic interests are mainly in political theory with a focus on Black Political thought and 19th and 20th century continental theory. In the fall, she will matriculate in the Joint PhD program in Political Science and African-American Studies at Yale University.
Rethinking the exceptionality of Guantanamo Bay: Thoughts on Incarceration in the age of "Terror"
The documentation of torture and inhumane treatment in military prisons has stirred public outcry and calls for reform; however, critical discourses have treated the practices of military prisons as exceptional. Rethinking how the tropes and metaphors of “terrorism,” “homeland security,” “alien,” and “enemy combatant” pervade both domestic and international discourses suggests that the thesis of exceptionality needs to be complicated, and a new set of questions raised. Hhow does the marking of bodies within and outside the nation draw the boundaries of belonging? In what ways are the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex similarly deployed in this new age of “terror”? What challenges do these questions raise for reform efforts targeted at Guantanamo Bay?
RUTH GILMORE - Director, Program in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California
Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a professor, writer, and founding member of Critical Resistance, one of the most influential anti-prison organizations in the United States. She is also active in the Prison Moratorium Project and California Prison Focus.
Ms. Gilmore’s most recent book Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California, studies the California prison-boom and various movements to oppose the growing prison system.
Profiling Alienated Labor: Racism, Prison Growth, and Premature Death
(Abstract is unavailable at this time)
CLAUDRENA HAROLD - University of Virginia, Assistant Professor of History
Claudrena Harold teaches African American history, African American Studies, and Labor History. She is the author of The Rise and Fall of the Garvey Movement in the Urban South,1918-1942 ( 2007 with Routledge Press), and has had several articles on African American music published in the Seattle Times, the Charlotte Observer, and Popmatters. Professor Harold is currently working on a book project that looks at the critical role of the southern black majority in the making of New Negro modernity.
If They Come for Us in the Morning: Prison Narratives and the Search for a Radical Black Subjectivity
Specifically focusing on two distinctive prison narratives, the Angola Prison Spirituals and Archie Shepp’s jazz classic, Attica Blues, this talk invites new interrogations into the creative ways African American political activists and cultural artists have utilized the space and time of incarceration to forge new visions of the radical black subject. Especially important here is the vital role of music in creating communities of solidarity within the context of confinement. Suggestive rather than exhaustive, this talk opens with an analysis of the Angola Prison Spirituals, recorded on the Angola, Louisiana Federal Penitentiary during the late 1950s. Special attention will be given to how these inmates/artists articulated the specific pains of their incarcerated status by masterfully negotiating the blues impulse and the gospel ethos. Moving from the Civil Rights period to the Black Power era, the remainder of her discussion covers Archie Shepp’s 1972 recording Attica Blues,the release of which marked the beginning of a tradition in which black cultural artists sought to validate and legitimize their status as “radical beings” through identification with the incarcerated, confined black body.
FREDERICK T. HEBLICH, JR. - Assistant Federal Defender, Western District of Virginia
Frederick T. Heblich, Jr. received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia. He was admitted to the Virginia State Bar in 1982. He was in private practice from 1982–2006, concentrating on criminal defense, primarily in federal court. He was the lead counsel in two death penalty cases, US v. Coleman Johnson, and US v. Darrell Rice. He has served as Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Charlottesville and Harrisonburg Division of the Western District of Virginia since 2006 and as Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law since 2002.
JOY JAMES - Senior Research Fellow at the Center for African and African American Studies at University of Texas, Austin and the John B. and John T. McCoy Presidential Professor of the Humanities and College Professor in Political Science at Williams College
Professor James’s work focuses on political and feminist theory, critical race theory, and incarceration. Her current research examines “Black Women in National Politics”.
The Prosecution of Race and Rape: Framing the Case of Ben LaGuer in the 2006 Massachusetts Gubernatorial Campaign
The controversial 2006 Massachusetts gubernatorial contest between Republican Lt. Governor Kerry Healey and her democratic rival, civil rights attorney Deval Patrick, was influenced by strategies shaped in the 1988 presidential election. Trailing in the "white" vote, the Healey campaign sought to tie Patrick to Ben LaGuer, a black Puerto Rican man imprisoned since 1983 for an interracial rape (LaGuer maintains his innocence), and by extension to link the democratic front runner to former Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton. Reviewing police misconduct, racial bias, and media sensationalism that led to civil rights advocates' interest in the case, this paper explores how the racial and gender politics of both parties led Patrick to renounce support for a new trial for LaGuer, and enabled Patrick to become the first African American governor of Massachusetts, and one of only three black governors since Reconstruction.
CHARLES LEWIS - Howard University Assistant Professor of Social Work
Charles E. Lewis, Jr. received his B. A. in psychology from the College of New Rochelle; his M. S. W. in clinical counseling from Clark Atlanta University, and his Ph.D. in social policy analysis from Columbia University. Dr. Lewis is the immediate past president and a member of the board of directors of the Mental Health Association of the District of Columbia. His research focuses on adolescent mental health prevention and treatment services. He recently completed a research project on “Risk and Protective Factors among Adolescents in Montgomery County Public Housing.” A licensed minister, one of his primary interests is the role of African American churches in the social welfare service delivery and social welfare policy. Primary to returning to school to complete his doctorate, Dr. Lewis was a newspaper editor and public relations professional and maintains an interest in the influence of media and public opinion in the formation of social welfare policy.
Economic and Relationship Penalties of Incarceration
This paper is based on a study which examines the association between incarceration and labor market outcomes, as well as incarceration and relationship outcomes on a nationally representative sample of young unwed fathers. Using data from the Fragile Families Study, Doctor Lewis finds that the unwed fathers in the study who had been incarcerated had significantly lower earnings and employment and were less likely to be married than those fathers who had never been incarcerated. Fathers who had been incarcerated earned 28 percent less and were 57 percent as likely to have been employed at the time of their child’s birth than those who had never been incarcerated. While fathers who had been incarcerated (47%) were equally as likely to be living with the mother at the time of the birth of their first child as the fathers who were never incarcerated (45%), just 22 percent of the fathers who had been incarcerated were married compared to 42 percent of the fathers who had never been incarcerated.
ERIC LOTT - University of Virginia Professor of American Studies and Cultural Studies
Professor Lott received his Ph. D. in 1991 from Columbia University. He has been a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of Virginia since 1990 as well as having held a Carter G. Woodson Institute Fellowship from 1989–1990.
Lott’s book about the origins, evolution, and cultural significance of blackface minstrelsy, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993), received the 1994 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians and the first annual Modern Language Association’s “Best First Book” prize, and the 1994 Outstanding Book on the Subject of Human Rights by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights. Professor Lott’s most recent book, The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual (Basic Books) was published in 2006.
TIM LOVELACE - Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, University of Virginia School of Law
Tim Lovelace received his B.A. with Distinction in American Politics from the University of Virginia in 2003. As an undergraduate, he was a Lawn Resident and served as the Student Member of the University's Board of Visitors. In 2006, he graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was an Oliver Hill Scholar, Black Law Students Association President, an editor of the Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, the Thomas Marshall Miller Prize recipient, and the Bracewell & Patterson LLP Best Oralist Award winner. Currently, Tim is a Governor's Fellow and a doctoral student in History at the University. His research examines how civil rights activism in the American South informed the development of international human rights law. Tim also presently serves as the Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, which provides a variety of opportunities for law students, scholars, practitioners, and community members to examine and exchange ideas related to race and law.
DEBORAH MCDOWELL - Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute and Alice Griffin Professor of English at the University of Virginia
Deborah McDowell is the founding editor of the Beacon Black Women Writers Series, co-editor with Arnold Rampersad of Slavery and the Literary Imagination, and period editor of the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. She is also the author of “The Changing Same”: Studies in Fiction by Black American Women and the editor of various scholarly editions - including, including Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Passing and Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life. She has published numerous essays and review essays on African American literature, culture, photography and film. Her most recent book is Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin, published by Charles Scribner’s and W. W. Norton.
MARC MAUER - Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
Mr. Mauer has directed programs on criminal justice reform for 30 years and is one of the nation’s leading experts on sentencing policy and the criminal justice system. He frequently lectures, appears regularly on television and radio networks, and is an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University.
Mr. Mauer has written extensively on sentencing policy,including his book, Race to Incarcerate,which was a semi-finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is also the co-editor of Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment.
The Racial Dynamics of Criminal Justice Policy
Research has consistently demonstrated how decisions made in the criminal justice system produce disparate outcomes for people of color. These include such practices as racial profiling, disparity in sentencing, and access to treatment programs. These analyses are important, but they risk overlooking a broader question of how criminal justice policy is formulated, and the racial assumptions behind that decision-making. By identifying crime as a racial problem, public policy has become focused on punishment as the primary response rather than utilizing a broader range of approaches.
LISA L. MILLER - Rutgers University, Associate Professor of Political Science
Lisa L. Miller's scholarly interests are at the intersection of law and social policy, specifically the politics of inequality, punishment and the legal and political mobilization of racial minorities on violence and justice. She has written extensively on the development of crime and justice policy and legal practices. Professor Miller's most recent book, The Perils of Federalism: Race, Poverty and the Politics of Crime Control, explores why individuals most adversely affected by crime and harsh penal policies have been so marginalized in debates over criminal justice.
Black Invisibility and Racial Injustice: Politics and Punishment in U.S. Federalism
The promise of civil rights is the promise of inclusion and yet the vast disparity in incarceration rates between Blacks, Latinos and whites stands as an ugly reminder of the nation’s long history of race-based exclusionary practices. Professor Miller argues that understanding race and punishment in the 21st century demands an exploration of the distinctive political systems that structure legal authority and policy outcomes in the United States. A close examination of federalism and the structure of interest group representation reveals important aspects of political mobilization, representation and accountability that contribute to high incarceration rates and other de-stabilizing punishment practices for minority citizens. In particular, she suggests that American federalism, not only obscures blacks as victims of crime but also as objects of social, economic and political exclusion. As a result their political agitation and demands are rendered invisible in the political process.
ANOOP MIRPURI - Carter G. Woodson Institute pre-doctoral fellow and PhD Candidate in the Department of English at the University of Washington
Mr. Mirpuri received his BA in Literature from University of California at Santa Cruz. His research and teaching interests include 19th and 20th century American literatures, critical race studies, African American political thought, and theories of postcoloniality. His dissertation, entitled “The Human Problem: Race, Rebellion, and the Problem of Crime in the Wake of Civil Rights,” approaches the contemporary explosion in U.S. incarceration by examining how crime emerged as a contested narrative category in political discourse and black literary production following the passage of civil rights legislation.
Theorizing Black Captivity
This paper examines the emergence of the prisoner as a key locus of black radical politics and historiographic inquiry in the early years of the 1970s. Returning to the work of the radical prison movement—particularly the writings of George Jackson—it argues that the prisoner came to serve as a symbolic and material force that grounded an emerging critique of the liberal capitalist state. In developing a theory of “black captivity” as the formal and epistemological ground of U.S. state sovereignty, this paper shows how black radical politics in the 1970s became increasingly central to the way in which late modern political theory conceptualized the relations between confinement and racialized social formations. Giving historical force to the centrality of the prisoner within black radical discourses was the anxiety caused by the visibility of state violence. Equally consequential was the theorization of the prison as the contemporary legacy of plantation slavery. The figure of the prisoner in black radical politics would come to bear the weight of efforts to reshape the boundaries of social inclusion, and in the process, the very perameters of state power.
MICHAEL OWENS - Emory University, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Professor Owens focuses his research and teaching in the fields of public policy processes, urban politics, religion and politics, and African American politics. He is the Principal Investigator for the Prisoners of Democracy Project and co-organizer of the Atlanta (Prisoner) Reentry Mapping Network. He is a board member of the Urban Affairs Association and National Housing Institute. Professor Owens is the author of God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America.
The Problem Is Not Punishment, Per Se: Policies and Attitudes towards Felons as Polity Members.
This talk will focus on the ways policymakers socially construct felons as “deviants,” not citizens. Social policies deriving from this construction often contradict public attitudes regarding the treatment of felons as citizens. Professor Owens's data comes from a national survey, a statewide survey of Georgians, and citywide surveys of residents of Atlanta and Washington D.C.
MARLON ROSS - University of Virginia Professor of English and Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies
Marlon Ross is Professor of English and in the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia, where he teaches 18th-and 19th-century British literature; 20th-century African American literature and culture; gender, sexuality, and masculinity studies; gay/lesbian/queer theory; theories of space; literary history and historiography. The recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, he is the author of Manning the Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim Crow Era and The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry. His numerous scholarly articles and essays have appeared in Callaloo, New Literary History, The Wordsworth Circle, The Keats-Shelley Journal, and Southern Humanities. His essays have also appeared in a range of volumes, including Romanticism and Feminism; Revisioning Romanticism; James Baldwin, Now; Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory; and Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Professor Ross is currently at work on The Color of Manhood: Re-Making Black Masculinities in and Beyond the Civil Rights Era and co-editing with Kenrick Ian Grandison, Race, Space and Culture: Essays on Critical Theory and the Built Environment.
LYNN SANDERS - University of Virginia, Associate Professor of Politics
Professor Sanders teaches courses on race, gender, public opinion, political psychology, voting,and health care politics. Her books include Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals(with Donald R. Kinder) and the forthcoming Interracial Opinion in a Divided Democracy, which shows how American citizens think differently about politics depending on the race of the other citizens with whom they discuss politics. Her article "Against Deliberation," elucidating some of the pitfalls of democratic discussion, is currently the most frequently cited article published in the journal Political Theory. Professor Sanders earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Michigan.
JONATHAN SIMON - University of California - Berkeley Associate Dean, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program
Along with his appointment as Associate Dean, Jonathan Simon is a professor of law and the faculty member for the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice. Professor Simon’s scholarly interests focus on the role of criminal justice and punishment in modern society and the history of law and the social sciences. He is the Author of Poor Discipline: Parole and the Social Control of the Underclass, 1890–1990, and, most recently, of Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear.
Violence: Mass Incarceration, the '60s, and the Racialization of Violent Crime
We have a rough consensus in America that the war on drugs has put too many people in prison and helped to concentrate law enforcement and prosecution too heavily on communities of color. While efforts through reform legislation to steer drug offenders toward treatment and away from incarceration are positive, they ignore the role played by fear of violent crime and harsh penal policies toward crimes labeled as violent in sustaining our drug war and our overall level of hyper-punishment.
Since the 1960s, violent crime has been even more racially coded than drug crime. Only a concerted effort to reduce American punishments for violent crime, including murder, can fully address the complex hold that mass incarceration and fear of violent crime has on American politics and society.
HEATHER THOMPSON - University of North Carolina- Charlotte, Associate Professor of History
Professor Thompson’s research interests focus on the history of the postwar United States and particularly on the history of social movements, civil rights, justice policy, inner cities, and labor in the 1960s and 1970s. Thompson is the author of Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City (Cornell 2001). She is currently at work on a history of the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its legacy for Pantheon Books. This summer Thompson will also publish the edited volume, Speaking Out:Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s.
America's Second Prison Crisis: Locating the Origins of Today's Race to Incarcerate, and the Key to its End, in the Long 20th Century
Professor Thompson's talk will begin by focusing attention on the fact that today's incarceration crisis is by no means the nation's first. African Americans also faced a most severe justice system, and were incarcerated in record and disproportionate numbers, in the late-19th century as well. Notably, however, important lessons can he learned from that earlier prison crisis--namely how some of its most brutal features were eliminated. She will explore some of these and then turn to the later decades of the 20th century and, more specifically, on the ways in which some of the most tumultuous events of the 1960s and 1970s unwittingly sparked a second prison crisis in this country--this one also marked by the unprecedented incarceration of African Americans and a wholesale embrace of punitive justice policy. Just as the early 20th century holds lessons for humanizing the nation's justice system, however, so do the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. The paper will close by exploring these as well.
HELEN TRAINOR - Director of the Virginia Institutionalized Persons Project for the Legal Aid Justice Center
Ms. Trainor is the first person in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be tasked with investingating the conditions in Virginia's prisons and jails. She is a former Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Miami Office of the Federal Public Defender, where she specialized in federal criminal post-conviction and appellate law. Ms. Trainor was a 2002-2003 United States Supreme Court Fellow, serving as the spokesperson for the Chief Justice on rule of law issues.
VESLA WEAVER - University of Virginia, Assistant Professor of Politics
Vesla Mae Weaver is an Assistant Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and Faculty Affiliate at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. Weaver has written on topics including race and ethnic politics, immigration, social policy, electoral politics, political psychology, American political development, and the politics of inequality. She is currently completing a book manuscript, Frontlash: Race and the Transformation of American Criminal Policy and Politics, which uncovers a connection between the movement for civil rights and the development of punitive criminal justice. The book grows out of her dissertation, winner of the Best Dissertation Award in Race, Ethnicity, and Politics given by the American Political Science Association. Weaver is also working on a collaborative book project on skin color, multiracialism, and immigration and their implications for racial politics (with Professors Jennifer Hochschild and Traci Burch).
The Impact of the Carceral State on Citizenship and Citizens’ Sense of the State
Exposure to the criminal justice system is greater today than at any time in our history. While only three percent of the population is currently under correctional supervision, the proportion of the population that will experience criminal justice supervision at some point in their lives is now fifteen percent. Indeed, veterans of prison are more numerous than veterans of military duty. However, we know little about the impact of the criminal justice system on citizens’ experience of government. Using a panel survey of over 15,000 adults, this paper offers the first systematic exploration of how criminal justice involvement shapes the political inclusion of current and former offenders. The findings suggest that contact with the criminal justice system systematically depresses citizens’ trust in government, political engagement, and commitment to civic obligations, providing important insights into how criminal justice institutions redefine the citizenship of those under its purview.
CHRISTOPHER WILDEMAN - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health &Society Scholar at the University of Michigan, Postdoctoral Affiliate in the Population Studies Center
In 2010, Christopher Wildeman will be an assistant professor of sociology and a faculty fellow at the Center for Research on Inequalities and Life Course (CIQLE) at Yale University. He received a Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from Princeton University. Mr. Wildeman's dissertation considered the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality among American children. The first empirical chapter of his dissertation, which estimates the risk of parental imprisonment for the 1978 and 1990 birth cohorts of American children, won the Dorothy S. Thomas Award from the Population Association of America in 2008 and multiple awards from sections of the American Sociological Association in 2007.
As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar, Mr. Wildeman plans to consider the consequences of mass imprisonment for the health and well-being of American Children, adults and neighbors - especially as relates to inequality.
Parental Imprisonment, the Prison Boom, and the Concentration of Childhood Disadvantage
Previous research on the consequences of mass imprisonment has focused almost exclusively on the effects of imprisonment on (1) crime rates and (2) the life-chances of ever-imprisoned men—generally operationalized as their earnings, health, and family lives. Relatively little research, however, has considered the consequences of mass imprisonment for families—and even less research has considered the consequences for children specifically. This talk speculates about the myriad consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality among children, particularly for their life chances. The paper estimates that the effects of parental incarceration on children creates vast race and class inequality affecting not only this generation but those to come.
LISA WOOLFORK - University of Virginia Associate Professor of English
Lisa Woolfork teaches African-American literature and is the author, most recently, of Embodying Slavery in American Culture, an interdisciplinary study of trauma theory and the representation of slavery in African-American literature, film, and cultural practices. Her research and teaching interests include African-American literature, African American Studies, nineteenth and twentieth century American literature, women's studies and trauma theory.
Books and Edited Collections:
- Braman, David. 2004. Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Clear, Todd R. 2007. Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. New York: Oxford University Press.
- James, Joy, ed.2000. States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Mauer, Marc and Meda Chesney-Lind, ed. 2002. Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. New York: New Press.
- Peterson, Ruth D., Lauren J. Krivo, and John Hagen, ed. 2006.The Many Colors of Crime: Inequalities of Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America. New York: New York University Press.
- Travis, Jeremy and Christy Visher, ed. 2005. Prisoner Reentry and Crime in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage.
Recent Reports Available On-line
- Human Rights Watch.Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs. May 2000. 12:2(G).
- National Council on Crime and Delinquency. 2007. And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Juvenile Justice System (.pdf). Oakland: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
- Rosich, Katherine J. 2007. Race, Ethnicity, and the Criminal Justice System (.pdf) . (.pdf) Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.
- Sentencing Project Publications on Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System
- Welch, Ronald H., and Angulo, Carlos T., and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. 2000. Justice on Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System. Washington, DC: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Advocacy and Research Programs and Organizations
- ACLU, National Prison Project
- Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
- The Correctional Association of New York
- Legal Aid Justice Center,Virginia Institutionalized Persons (VIP) Project
- The Sentencing Project
- The Urban Institute Justice Policy Center
- The Vera Institute of Justice
Additional Information & Resources
- Prison Policy Initiative
- Created Equal: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System
(National Council on Crime and Delinquency)
- Women and Incarceration
- Letter from Carlton Weaver (.pdf, 240KB), Imprisoned in Virginia's Wallens Ridge State Penitentiary
We gratefully acknowledge support for this symposium from the Page-Barbour Lecture Endowment, administered by the Page-Barbour and Richard Lectures Committee of the University of Virginia.
The Carter G. Woodson Institute would also like to thank the following sponsors for their continued support:
- Corcoran Department of History
- Department of Media Studies
- Graduate Student Diversity Program
- Institute for Public History
- Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Office of African-American Affairs
- Telephone: (434) 924-3109
- Fax: (434) 924-8820
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The Carter G. Woodson Institute
University of Virginia
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