Thursday, September 11, 2008

Governing through Crime

I've been hearing good things about the book Governing through Crime, by Jonathon Simon, and was interested to see this review in Governing Magazine, which actually holds Texas up as a "glimmer of hope" against the trends described in the book, which may sound familiar to regular Grits readers:

To be politically effective, elected officials believe they must be tough on crime. Simon writes, "Simply put, to be for the people, legislators must be for the victims and law enforcement, and thus they must never be for (or capable of being portrayed as being for) criminals or prisoners as individuals or as a class."

As part of the war on crime, according to Simon, "Americans have built a new civil and political order structured around the problem of violent crime. In this new order, values like freedom and equality have been revised in ways that would have been shocking, if obviously unimaginable, in the late 1960s, and new forms of power institutionalized and embraced — all in the name of repressing seemingly endless waves of violent crime." This new civil and political order is, following Simon, a modern era of "governing through crime," making crime, and particularly the fear of it, the rationale for laws and policies which have resulted in mass incarceration — over 2 million Americans in prison.

"Governing through crime" is a challenging description of the politics and administration of the so-called "carceral state." Unlike "governing crime" — the ordinary work of the police, the courts and the penal system, particularly as they deal with those who break the law — "governing through crime" is the politics and administration of mass incarceration.

Governing through crime has resulted in mass imprisonment noted by its scale, its categorical (racial) application, and its increasingly warehouse-like or waste management-like qualities. Simon says: "The distinctive new form and function of the prison today is a space of pure custody, a human warehouse or even a kind of social waste management facility. ... The waste management prison promises no transformation of the prisoner through penitence, discipline, intimidation, or therapy."

What has governing through crime done to government? "Whether one values American democracy for its liberty or its equality-enhancing features, governing through crime has been bad. First, the vast reorienting of fiscal and administrative resources toward the criminal justice system at both the federal and state levels has resulted in a shift aptly described as transformation from the ‘welfare state' to the ‘penal state.'"

There are glimmers of hope. After a decade of stunning growth in prison inmates, the Texas legislature decided it was time for a change. Drug treatment is being expanded, parole practices are being reformed, parole boards are adjusting to earlier release dates, and special drug courts are being established, all designed to slow the growth of incarceration. To reduce parole violation-based reincarceration, Kansas is making grants to community corrections agencies for parolee training and monitoring, and is setting guidelines to assist judges and officers in revocation decisions. Nevada is recalibrating good time served to reduce sentences. And, there are many other examples. Nevertheless, American penal practices are abysmal, an affront to democracy and to justice.

12 comments:

sunray's wench said...

"parole boards are adjusting to earlier release dates,"

In Texas????? The place where the parole board ignores the legislation stating that and inmate CAN be paroled after a certain date and uses the reason of "nature of offence" or "insufficient time served" to deny parole, and not the behaviour or achievements of the inmate since incarceration.

I'd love to know who this guy spoke to during his research on Texas parole.

Anonymous said...

Our society is being systematically destroyed. Religion is being taken away or homoginized. Our own government has been attempting to destroy the family unit since the second world war. All of our basic Freedoms are being violated. We institutionalize our babies as a matter of rote. Our family history, decency and connection to the past is rotting away in nursing homes. Why does this not bother anyone else? The state can take your newborn baby for no other reason than that you might sometime in the future neglect your child? Our children have no place with us. Our elderly have no repect. Our teens have no mission anymore. And in an article about the staggering amount of people that commit suicide your report focuses on political advertising? When the whole world has gone mad is the last sane person really sane?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sunray, you're right about parole rates. They ticked up just 1% last year, causing John Bradley and a couple of other prosecutors to screech like scalded cats to the press that the parole board is opening the floodgates. It's probably that round of phony, hype-generated media that gave the writer that impression.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 3:42, the post on suicide rates doesn't focus on political advertising. That's just the APD initiative that provided the statistics. The point of that post was that "Texas underspends on mental health treatment compared to prisons and jails," not that a PR campaign is enough.

Cicero Lost said...

Agreed Texas under spends on mental health treatment as well as, education, social services etc which can have the effect of reducing crime..but he sites earlier release dates as a sign of things getting better. I am not sure that is part of a solution. Its a symptom of overcrowded jails.

Anonymous said...

Sunray's wench is corrent. 1% uptick in early parolee release is not change, it's a cosmetic joke.

sunray's wench said...

There are NO early releases going on in Texas. The Federal laws that allowed inmates to seek early release for cocaine-related offences do not cover state inmates. The '1%' are not being released early, they are being released once they become eligible for parole, and there are few enough of them to make no difference at all.

Glen Graham said...

Professor Simon has a excellant blog: http://www.governingthroughcrime.blogspot.com
He recently blogged about a middle-class suburb or subdivision in Missouri where a major selling point is the surveillance camera's outside every new home even though the crime rate in the area is very low. His blog posts tend to be overly intellectual - kind of what you might expect from a college professor. I like his stuff anyway, even though I am the only one to post a comment.
Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,
Glen R. Graham, Tulsa Criminal Attorney, http://www.glenrgraham.com

Glen Graham said...

The “welfare state” has been replaced by the “penal state” or the “carceral state” which has resulted in the mass incarceration of over 2 million Americans in prisons where they are “warehoused” and viewed as a “waste management” problem rather than human beings that need rehabilitation and job training and counseling.

The “nanny state” has now been replaced with the “big brother” state and the “prison state” where soon legislation may be enacted awarding all new borns a state tracking number and where small cities may be built surrounded by barbed wire and sharpshooters, not a “gated” community to keep intruders out but a “gated” community to keep the “inmates” inside.
Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,
Glen R. Graham, Tulsa Criminal Lawyer, http://www.glenrgraham.com

Glen Graham said...

The redefinition of "freedom" is next.

Anonymous said...

Freedom was redefined the moment the American people allowed Bush, his cronies, and the Republican Congress to create and enforce the "Patriot Act"...

I wonder if even they believed that title too?

Thomas Jefferson : .."If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty."

Replica Fairings said...

It really sounds like and interesting book. I'll look for it to understand better the term Governing through crime concept.