Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Watching the Detectives
Two recent stories in the NYT spotlight different strategic innovations that are very common today in American policing. Both raise concerns about the futility of creating more secure and prosperous cities by continuing to govern them through crime. They also raise concerns about the ways race and racism are at work whenever we govern through crime.
In several fascinating articles and video reports in the Regional section of the Times, Andrew Jacobs has reported on a multi-night mini-ethnography he did with Newark police officers in some of the sections of that beleaguered city. (Newark Battles Murder and Its Accomplice, Silence). The very title of Jacob's story represents how powerful the pull of crime is on his imagination after a few nights with the police in Newark (metaphors of war and of criminal law intertwine).
The background of rising murder rates over the last several years is truly alarming (since it has wiped out most of the homicide reductions that Newark like most American cities had in the 1990s--- On the general phenomenon See, Zimring's The Crime Decline). But as the accompanying charts show, the rape and robbery rates, which also plunged in the 1990s, have continued to fall. This suggests that the that homicide spikes in Newark (and cities like Oakland California as well), are largely due to score settling among a very specific network of young men.
Yet rather than a strategy aimed at addressing that network, the Newark Police Department has embraced the widely used "broken windows" method of intensive policing of low level criminal activity in an entire neighborhood in an attempt to deter more serious crime. The flaws in this strategy have been widely aired (See Bernard Harcourt's Illusions of Order). For our purposes one need only note that it is a strategy totally invested in the unity of "crime" as a category (rather than structure of knowledge and power created by governing through crime).
Moreover it is a category that permits race and racism to be reinvested in countless ways from the fact that Jacob's story itself (without any apparent malice) links the blackness of neighborhoods to their criminality (by reinscribing its police ethnography in the familiar story of racial demography since the '60s), to the florid Sgt. Juliano who tells the clearly enthusiastic Jacob's that catching criminals in the Fifth war is like "shooting fish in a barrel."
The limits of a crime control strategy to control, yes, even the worst crimes like murder, are also well on display in the story and its title. Because of fear and mistrust of the police, there is virtually zero cooperation from the community in solving homicides.
An interesting recent effort to escape those limits of community support are shown in a much shorter story by Richard Jones, Crime Rate Drops, and a City Credits its Embrace of Surveillance Technology. In this approach the police cease trying to act on the community (whether through the hard or soft approaches to community policing) and instead rely on high technology equipment to speedily identify the location of gun shots, to video tape car thefts in progress, and to DNA test all persons encountered at crime scenes.
This Terminator like approach to carrying the battle against crime safely behind any form of popular consent invokes more constitutional and other objections than I have time for just now. But simply consider the way in which this kind of technology is certain to mechanically lock in the relationship between racially defined neighborhoods and crime (what are your odds of ending up in the East Orange DNA data base? I would guess it depends a lot on your race). Here, unlike the reportage on Newark, the technique is given unchallenged credit for a drop in crime so steep that it does suggest some effort by police to repress the count, a practice that Jones reports had gone on before).
Friday, May 25, 2007
Governing Campus through Crime
Sherman's explanation seems oddly ambivalent. If Kendrick was "one of" the aggressive people, why was she the only person facing serious charges (originally three felonies)? If she was knocked down, an assault on her body by the police officer(s), wouldn't screaming, biting, and being out of control be reasonable responses (certainly ones easily understandable in the calm deliberation of the prosecutor's office). Also, we have every reason to assume that Kendrick's race helped define the relative level of aggressiveness that police observed. The populist and professionalized mentalities that associate blackness with criminality in American governance make black individuals of either sex more readily seen as acting in accordance with that stereotype. Substantial cognitive science now shows that in controlled experiments observers more readily read black faces as expressing anger or threat.
The 3 year suspension, also reflects a degree of governing through crime that was not on UC campuses in the 1980s when I faced similar charges to Kendrick after the infamous Shanty-Town riot at Berkeley in Spring 1986. While I was charged with felony offenses (along with hundreds of others) and pre-emptively banned from coming to campus, only to plead guilty to a misdemeanor later (just like Kendrick), neither I nor any others from my recollection, were ever disciplined by the Berkeley campus. Instead, angered by campus administrators' decision to allow police to mass arrest peaceful demonstrators, I exiled myself from campus for a semester to take a visiting lecturer offer from the University of Michigan. I would bet that campus disciplinary bodies have gotten increasingly willing to bring down heavy sanctions on students when criminal charges are involved. Governing through crime tends to break down traditional boundaries among institutions, and centralize the flow of all "trouble" toward criminal justice "solutions."
Friday, May 18, 2007
Governing through Crime or Governing by Race
The historical pattern is consistent with both interpretations. The beginning of efforts to reshape governance around the problem of repressing violent crime coincided with the high water mark of the civil rights movement from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970. Many of the astounding gains achieved that movement have been visibly weakened (according to Bryan Stephenson, black male disenfranchisement in his home state of Alabama due to felon disenfranchisement laws is approach the levels that prevailed before the Voting Rights Act of 1965). Moreover the white southern elite, discredited by segregation, were able to strike a much better deal wit the national parties after Richard Nixon's "law and order" plus "southern strategy" worked in attracting Northern Democrats in 1968. The present system of mass incarceration, produces a toxic mix of effects on communities of color, lowering their social and economic viability while squelching their political voice all at once (Bruce Western's new book, Punishment and Inequality, spells all this out in convincing detail).
Clearly some Americans who wanted to reverse the Civil Rights movement, found in crime control, a new model of government through which to continue the campaign for "white mans government." (Katherine Beckett makes this case in Making Crime Pay). But many other Americans who were genuinely moved by the cultural force of the Civil Rights movement, found the problem of violent crime a compelling moral mandate to transform both their expectations of government and their own governing activity (in the home, workplace, community). It was these Americans who politicians like LBJ and Robert Kennedy hoped to reach with the crime commission put in place in 1965 and the promise of a growing federal role in crime control. They clearly didn't want to reverse the impact of Civil Rights legislation they had just supported (although they may have seen it as a kind of balancing act, substituting one kind of hopefully race neutral social control for another expressly racist variant).
Crime control had always been a potent way to govern in America. As recent histories of the 1930s show, war on crime was explicit theme of the early New Deal. Had the reactionary Supreme Court succeeded in shutting off the economic recovery strategy completely, we might have seen a much bigger war on crime in the mid-30s. But like the New Deal itself, governing through crime brought along two quite inconsistent but racially charged traditions. One tradition is the long chain of populist law enforcement and racial violence going back to the "slave patrols" and continuing into the racially charged urban police forces of the 20th century. The other tradition is associated with bureaucratic centralization, professionalism, and positivist criminology. The populist tradition has often been associated with visceral express racism. The professional criminological tradition generally rejected and disparaged that kind of racism, but was profoundly influenced by the tradition of scientific racism, by which the disadvantages of Africans and other colored races were attributed to biological and cultural inferiority (epitomized by the influential work of Cesare Lombroso, see David Horn's The Criminal Body and the new translation of L'Uomo Delinquente done by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter). This generally liberal tradition would eventually repudiate scientific racism as well, but the association between social pathology, crime, and non-white racial status would remain. Moreover, as an approach to governmental action, this progressive wing of criminology has always pushed for earlier intervention. Crime is a product of social pathology that produces early signs of deviance that can be themselves made eligible for intervention through criminalization.
So back to the 1960s for a moment. As both liberal and conservative politicians find in crime a politically viable surface on which to rework post-New Deal strategies of governance, they are investing in both of these traditions; more racially tinged populist punitiveness, and more focus on social pathology and more criminalization of pathological behavior. Moreover, deep economic restructuring, beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the 1980s is producing a collapse of the inner city economies on which the many communities of color still depended. The predictable result was a vast increase in the amount of social pathology to be criminalized, and deep concentration of this pathology inside communities of color (the emergence of the underclass).
Two things follow.
In an era of governing through crime it may be relatively easy to fight the racist implications of populist punitiveness (racial profiling and Frank Rizzo style racist policing are largely discredited), but very hard to stop the professional criminological focus on pathology from reinforcing the racial disadvantages of the war on crime. Thus the hidden danger in all the talk around re-entry about risk assessment and rehabilitation is to deepen the assumption that social pathology must be treated as crime in ways that will structurally disadvantage communities of color.
The struggle against mass imprisonment must become a struggle against the priority of crime over American governance.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Building the Killing State: California’s New Execution Chamber Unveiled
How does the state appear to us today? We can recall our favorite art deco post-offices, some built by the WPA, or the majestic fronts of high schools, city halls, county court houses and state capitals. One way the state does not usually appear to us, at least since the 19th century, is as ceremonial site of human executions. The relative disappearance of execution from public view, is one of the laws of penal evolution that our recent decades have not quite over turned (even as the death penalty itself survives). All the more unusual then that the public is given a glimpse into the way a contemporary state designs an execution chamber. The current one at San Quentin prison was a gas chamber, designed to asphyxiate condemned prisoners before a small audience of state officials and official witnesses. When California switched to lethal injection as an option in 1993, and then as the exclusive method (by court ruling) in 1995, the apparatus was set up inside the chamber, providing little room for prison staff to operate the machinery of death. Due to a successful challenge to execution of Michael Morales in 2006, California's death penalty has been stalled until the state can satisfy a federal judge that its procedures assure Morales and other prisoners a painless death. In an effort to satisfy that court, the state has revealed not only its new protocol but its design for a new execution chamber, currently priced at three quarters of a million dollar (a small part of an overall billion dollar remodel of death row to accommodate a thousand or more inmates). The result is a rare look into how the contemporary state presents itself in executions and the values that seem to govern that ritual. (Read Henry Weinstein's reporting in the LA Times)
The lay out of the new execution suite reflects the curious mixture of empathy and cruelty that lies at the heart of the modern death penalty. A person’s life is to be taken from them in full consciousness that they are dying as a punishment, but the process of taking it must conform to all the social and religious values embodied in our modern administrative state from designated space for spiritual advisors, to toilets designed to accommodate disabled persons.
The capacious injection chamber is open to viewing on three sides representing and dividing three distinct classes of authorized witnesses, family members of the victim, the media, and family members of the executed prisoner. State officials would presumably watch from the central media area. This design seems aimed at preventing any possibility of untoward words or expressions between the families of the murder victim and the execution victim.
The design also reflects the peculiar position the state is putting its own employees through in conducting executions by exposing them to a substantial risk of post traumatic disorders. Staff who must cope with the emotionally trying work of strapping a person down and injecting them with lethal poison have a break room and logistics area designed to permit them maximum distance and comfort in the midst of the execution machinery itself.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Rites of May
As my 10 year old daughter prepares in a week or so take part in an away from home school sponsored camping and learning experience I read with some alarm a story carried widely by the media (here’s the BBC version) about teachers from Scales Elementary school in Tennessee who had “staged a mock gun attack” on their sixth graders during a school camping trip. On the last night of a camping trip, the staff told the students a gun wielding assailant was in the area. Students recall teachers specifically using the term “code red,” which students had been previously trained meant that a gun wielder was in the school. In the face of parental outrage, school officials are describing the fake gun scenario as a “learning experience” that the staff had planned and that students had been told in that a prank would occur for teaching purposes during the trip. As the media storm builds, however, two staff members, an assistant principal and a teacher have been placed on unpaid leave for the duration of the school year.
Coming only a few weeks after the massacre at Virginia Tech it is difficult to believe that the staff members were not more wary that their particular prank might be misread (although perhaps they thought it even more relevant as a teaching issue). But the predictable focus on individual misconduct should not divert us from noting something subtler but pervasive, how central the imagined threat of violent crime has become to the American school experience. As Bill Lyons and Julie Drew argue in their terrific book, Punishing Schools, both inner city and suburban schools now bristle with routines designed to prevent crime in school and how much the remote possibility of violent crime justifies a system targeted at lesser misconduct. In the name of protecting children, we now invest their emerging subjectivity with a code system designed to highlight the salience of violent crime (how many other code colors besides “red” are there one wonders). The teachers in
Sunday, May 13, 2007
When to Govern through Crime? The Case of Sport Doping
One may well be tempted to see here a parallel with the disastrous war on drugs in the United States. Illegal drugs are a sticky concept and we can see all kinds of metaphoric and real links between the two. Yet it is precisely the advantage of foregrounding techniques of governing that we can suspend the often false unity of a field like illegal narcotics. In important ways doping in sport differs from other kinds of illegal drug markets. Here are several observations that support my sense that it is quite appropriate for Spain (and other countries) to upgrade the criminalizing of illegal doping in sport, while we used waste little time in decriminalizing and even legalizing most other kinds of illegal drug use and distribution.
- While the case for criminalizing drug users relies on vague social impacts of drug lifestyles, doping in sport represents a rather focused and profitable form of fraud, allowing those willing to do it the ability of some to claim an illicit advantage over those who accept the constraints of the rules.
- While the impact of most recreational drug use is longterm and likely to be manageable by many other kinds of governance strategies, the nature of competitive sport as a field makes the worth of the whole enterprise vulnerable in relatively short time frames to the misconduct of a few.
- While the war on drugs has required a massive proactive law enforcement apparatus to create deterrence (and whether it has created any at all is questionable) sport doping will involve focused investigations of readily identifiable (and thus deterrable) individuals who can compelled to provide biological information for forensic analysis.
- While the war on drugs has produced mass imprisonment, especially concentrated on minority populations, punishment for illegal sport doping could consist of massive fines coupled with permanent or limited exclusion from professional sport; sanctions with far less social collateral damage than prisons bring.
These seem to me good reasons to consider a greater role for crime in the governance of sport doping. This is especially true where there is a history of failed efforts at self regulation. If so it may suggest a new role for criminal justice in a society that no longer relies on mass imprisonment it for routine governance. Criminal justice might be sought not as kind of action for those who lack security carried out against those with even less security, but instead as a kind of knowledge, valuable precisely to those communities most threatened by the corrupting effects of imperfect knowledge.
Friday, May 11, 2007
The Professor and the Governor
If you want to get a feel for how complex is the challenge for an academic who hopes to transform California's culture of mass imprisonment with evidence based criminology, keep your eye on UC Irvine criminologist Joan Petersilia.
Professor Petersilia, one of the nation’s leading experts on parole and reentry, has become Governor Schwarzenegger’s main policy advisor on reforming
If you click the link labeled, “comprehensive prison reform,” you see a picture of Professor Joan Petersilia in the upper right hand corner.
On the accompanying video, Professor Petersilia touts the emphasis on rehabilitation in the new law. No governor in nearly thirty years has chosen to associate themselves with academic criminology as a form of state knowledge. In doing so, Schwarzenegger is invoking a New Deal style of leadership (“the brain trust”) that has been virtually absent in the era of governing through crime. Professor Petersilia in her many public appearances and publications in recent months has emerged as an advocate for reducing California’s prison population and its chronic use of parole to recycle the vast majority of released prisoners back to prison. This possibility, embraced by the governor as well, is represented in the recent law by provisions requiring the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reach certain benchmarks in establishing effective rehabilitation programs before a second round of money is released to build more prison bed space. Other provisions supported by Professor Petersilia, including establishment of a sentencing commission to reconsider who gets sent to prison in the first place, and program to house most of
Petersilia has taken a hard and exposed road. She has become a public icon for criminology in the service of a political leadership that has continued to support the principle of mass imprisonment. She has remained a clear spoken truth teller committed to empirical rather than ideological answers to the state’s prison crisis. During her recent appearance on Forum, a Bay Area public radio show frequently devoted to debating public policy, Professor Petersilia embraced these tensions, strongly supporting the law as a necessary step forward while agreeing with every critic about the fact that California imprisons far too many of its people.
Can Joan help lead us out of an age of governing through crime and back to a time when American political leaders viewed empirical socio-legal research as a key technology of governance? I don’t know, but I think She is a hero for trying. I’m going to keep watching (and help if I can).
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Secret Agents from the War on Crime
The alleged plot by a small group of Muslim men to attack soldiers at
There may be a common cause to these differences, i.e., the heavy American reliance on professional informers who typically have strong personal incentives to get their suspects to say and do incriminating things, and who have sophisticated legal knowledge of just what sound bytes and actions they need. This reliance is driven by many things, including the ham handed way American security forces mistreated domestic Muslims after 9/11, but the most important is the deeply ingrained effects of the war on crime on American governance generally (what I call governing through crime) and now on the war on terror. One of the most important features of the American war on crime was the heavy reliance on informers to make the largely futile drug war work. After all, unlike real crime, drug dealing mostly involves cooperative relationships between people who want to buy and sell the stuff and who have few incentives to call the police. Investigation therefore requires professional moles who have the street credibility to get inside drug deals, but the incentives to work for the police (a very unattractive subset of the population by all accounts). These informants generated untold numbers of wrongfully convicted Americans, many of who still probably languish in prison (we’ll never know because of the absence of DNA type evidence, but the nightmare of Tulia Texas where scores of people were sent to prison by just one such informant,
The current reporting on the
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
California's Prisons and its Communities
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Mass Incarceration, Not
Imagine if after years of packing ever greater numbers of offenders into prisons lacking in rehabilitation and rife with interpersonal violence, county courts, realizing that public safety could never improve this way, decided to keep an increasing portion of its offender population at home and outside of bars, while investing in innovative rehabilitative techniques. Seem impossible? it has up until now to me. In Governing through Crime I argued that mass imprisonment is a policy held in place not by crime (or even its repressed others, racisms, class exploitation, etc.) but by changes in the structure of our political institutions around the problem of violent crime that had made the physical transfer of threatening populations a central tendency of governing late modern America. Yet as detailed in a recent series by James Sterngold in the San Francisco Chronicle (read it now) the scenario I began with has actually occurred in California, the carceral behemoth itself, only not in its adult system. Instead, the youth prison system, aimed at juveniles who have committed serious or violent crimes, after steadily growing through the 1980s and early 1990s, went into a steep decline after reports of abuse emerged in the mid-1990s, and today fewer than 636 of the more than 200 thousand juveniles arrested in a typical year are sent to a prison.
How did this happen? This is a story waiting to be told, and of vital importance to those of us most anxious to dismantle both mass incarceration and the culture of fear and control that sustains it. Here are a few speculative hypotheses (i.e. guesses):
- Demons and Daemons: Youth are easy to demonize, they can morph quickly into super predators more frightening than a hardened repeat offender, but they can also morph back. As a subject of imagination, youth embody both our greatest fears and hopes (see generally popular culture of the last century or so)
- Responsible governance: This process of decarceration was not ordered by any court or the legislature. Rather, prodded by scandals involving abuse of youth inmates, county level officials seem to have made the decision to take on the burden of creating alternative strategies for addressing the crime risk posed by these youths (not inconsiderable risks at all) and to do so at home in the county of residence, and without recourse to locked doors. These are the same counties that are sending thousands of adult prisoners to an equally failed adult prison system. They key may be that different people in the counties are making these calls. In the adult system it is prosecutors, the elected officials who in some ways have the most stake in governing through crime.
Monday, May 7, 2007
French turn to Governing through Crime?
Does the election of Center-Right candidate Nikolas Sarkozy in the French Presidential elections (read Seb Rotella's coverage in the LA times) signal that France is now preparing to take an American style turn toward governing through crime? As interior minister during the 2005 riots that swept many immigrant neighborhoods in France, Sarkozy called rioters "scum" and threatened to use a hose to clean them out of France. More than previous Center-Right candidates Sarkozy has invoked themes law and order and promised to hold juvenile offenders and illegal immigrants to account. But Sarkozy is also seen as a stalking horse for a more neo-liberal approach to governing with more risk and responsibility placed on French citizens and a less powerful welfare state. The opening months of the Sarkozy government should provide signs to whether accountability talk will focus on crime control and bashing immigrants, or whether Sarkozy will really turn to the harder task of breaking up the social management of the French economy and unleashing more market forces. My opening prediction is that since resistance will be greatest to economic reforms (look for massive street demonstrations in response to any serious efforts to cut back job benefits and vacations), Sarkozy will turn to the easier road of governing through crime.