The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2018

All Issues
MAR 2018 Issue
Field Notes

Second Chances in the Era of the Jobless Future

STAND WITH MEEK MILL greets me on a billboard as I drive along Philadelphia’s I-95 and the Vine Street Expressway. Downtown, a local city SEPTA bus passes by, advertising similar messages of support.1 Even Drake took a moment to give Meek a shout-out on stage in Australia during his Boy Meets World Tour. Meek Mill is now inmate #ND8400 at a state prison in Camp Hill, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after being sentenced for technical violation of his probation.2 In Philadelphia, where Meek Mill was born and raised, 50% of the city’s jail populations are incarcerated for violating conditions of their probation.3 Unluckily, he was sentenced just before Larry Krassner, a former criminal defense attorney, won the Philadelphia District Attorney race on a platform that called for ending mass incarceration. On a chilly Monday afternoon in mid-November right after the Judge’s verdict, celebrities like Rick Ross, TI, Philadelphia Eagles players, criminal justice advocates, and local teenagers gathered outside the courthouse to demand his release. Together, they chanted “The System is Rigged” and “Fuck the Judge.” Hashtags like #FreeMeekMill and #JUSTICE4MEEK gained traction on social media. By the end of the week, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Jay-Z, which criticized probation as a “trap” that entangles young black men in a vicious cycle.4

Mill has spent over a decade on probation, first appearing before Judge Genece Brinkley in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in 2008, at the age of 20, for gun possession charges. His case demonstrates what is politically at stake in the various current criminal justice reforms that seek to undo mass incarceration while keeping probation and parole intact—or worse, those seeking to expand these forms of community supervision as an alternative to incarceration. Unfortunately, Meek Mill’s situation is not unique. Millions of Americans find it difficult to escape the clutches of probation, an experience so banal that it often gets ignored by anti-prison activists. As recent empirical research by Michelle Phelps shows, probation rates have grown alongside mass incarceration, and in many states exceeded it. 5 Between 1980 and 2017, probation grew fourfold, from one million to nearly 4.3 million people. Today, probationers outnumber parolees, jail inmates, and prisoners combined.

Probation has become a pervasive force in people’s daily lives, because, like incarceration, it is the outcome of state-level sentencing processes which have been modified greatly since the 1970s. Much to the chagrin of individual probation officers, judges and prosecutors play a major role. For example, the judge at the center of Meek Mill’s case decided to send Mill to prison—against the recommendations of his probation officer and prosecutor. In other instances, as with the passage of the Community Corrections Act, states are incentivized to use probation as a way to rely less on incarceration.6 Probation also became popular with the boom in plea bargaining, which in some states resolves at least half of all criminal cases. Furthermore, probation helps to alleviate the problem of jail overcrowding and all its attendant problems, which are often a strain on city budgets.

Probation was initially embraced by early 20th century Progressive era reformers as part of the “rehabilitative” strategy, the pillar of the penal-welfare model of crime control,7 which included other innovations like juvenile court, parole, and indeterminate sentencing, as well as the redesign of asylums, prisons, and reformatories. These alternatives to incarceration were a response to the harrowing evils of workhouses and prisons and, most importantly, a solution to middle-class and elite fears of the growing numbers of urban poor, a potential source of “social dynamite” ready to explode. 8 Couched in the terms of the emergent social science of the day, probation provided a strategy to separate those who were viewed as capable of being reformed from the more “dangerous” criminal classes during the industrial era.

The concepts of the “deserving poor” and the potentially “productive citizen” continue to be important parts of disciplining the labor force. Yet, today it is unclear how this can be achieved. For instance, economic recoveries since 1990 have been mostly in service sector jobs, where workers face low wages and precarious conditions.9 Also, criminal records affecting one in four adults add another burden to finding stable employment.10 These and other forms of legal exclusions like voting rights have created a “novel form of citizenship” for the largely black and Latino poor. As Miller and Alexander (2016)11 argue, due to the restrictions that criminal records pose for stable employment, many non-profits play a major role in negotiating housing, low-wage employment, and other social services for the “carceral citizen.” People on probation are required to report regularly to their probation officer (PO), avoid new arrests and contacts with police and known felons, pay fees and fines, find stable employment, participate in education programs, and pass random drug tests; they are prohibited from leaving the state without written permission from their probation officers and must report regularly for a number of years. Failure to meet any of these (or other) conditions can result in supervision violations, which can end up in revocation to jail.

In many counties throughout the United States, probationers on “intense supervision” are forced to wear ankle bracelets and are frequently visited at home by their POs, making family dynamics vulnerable to the whims of individual officers. In other states, people have to pay for probation services. For instance, in Massachusetts, where three out of four people on correctional supervision are on probation, service fees are estimated to cost probationers $20 million a year.12 If prison is hell, then probation is purgatory—a sort of “purification” process which involves being recycled in and out of behavioral programs to “unlearn” criminal thinking, working low-wage jobs, and avoiding contact with the police.

How did we get here?


Probation and the scientific management of the urban poor

In the US and the UK, probation arose as a form of social control aimed at managing the “deserving” urban poor. Much like the birth of the prison, its development was enmeshed in the complex class relations of emerging industrial society.13 The roots of American probation practices are often traced back to the deeds of a 19th-century petit-bourgeois Boston cobbler, John Augustus, a Christian and member of the Washington Total Abstinence society who took it upon himself to bail out common drunkards and to supervise their rehabilitation. Not much is known about this “fidgety old fellow” besides a short book of 104 pages he left behind, published in 1852 as A Report of the Labors of John Augustus14 documenting his work in the Boston courts and including newspaper accounts of the day that mention him. His shop was a couple of blocks from Police Court, where officials tried very hard to dissuade him from bailing out the urban poor. Similarly to today’s police-citation quota system, police at that time received kickbacks for every person sent to the house of correction. Initially, Augustus bailed people out with his own money; later he was helped by other Boston philanthropists. To decide if someone was reformable, he carefully screened people’s backgrounds, searched their social histories, including family background and their associates. People from semi-respectable families or those expressing willingness to be rehabilitated were more likely to be bailed out. Once the person was convicted by a judge, Augustus paid their bail, made them sign a pledge not to drink, and took them under his care, often opening up his own home to house them. He initially chose men, but later on added women arrested for vagrancy, drunkenness, or prostitution, and also juvenile delinquents. He drew up a report on his rehabilitative attempts, which he presented to the judge; if the court believed the person was reformed, no sentence was imposed. Upon his death, the Boston Children’s Aid Society continued his work, and in 1878 Massachusetts became the first state to pass a probation statute.

The growth of probation was further stimulated by the creation of juvenile court in Chicago in 1899, an outcome of Progressive era reforms which sought to establish individualized treatment for youth. The impetus for this cannot be credited solely to humanitarian concerns, but was due also to class fears about the growing number of idle youth.15 Industrialization, urbanization, and immigration created wealth and luxury for one group of people and immiseration for the rest. The workhouses and prisons of the 18th and 19th century no longer functioned as places of discipline; in fact, inmates themselves often ran these institutions. Various commissions brought together authorities to address these issues. In Cincinnati, Ohio, experts in the National Congress of Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline drew up a declaration arguing that the penal system should make “upright and industrious free men, rather than orderly and obedient prisoners.”16 This vision encouraged the building of new reformatories across the United States, mostly located in rural areas, far away from cities, reflecting reformers’ ideas about the link between the urban environment and crime.17

In their attempt to humanize the justice system, Progressive reformers expanded the scope of state power. What began as a volunteer-led innovation was incorporated into the criminal justice system, and by the 1920s an estimated 33 states had some form of adult probation in place. Probation reflected Progressive beliefs about the causes of social problems like crime and criminality. They looked to the emerging social sciences, especially sociology and psychology, to explain deviance and crime, and they argued that the environment was the main culprit. By then, the settlement house movement had already achieved some prominence. This was the beginning of what would become modern-day social work, which sought to neutralize potential working-class struggles against the existing social order by providing social aid, education, and work. The ecological views on crime and poverty co-existed with the belief that certain segments of the population were “defective” and beyond rehabilitation due to their hereditary makeup; many Progressive-era reformers accordingly dabbled in eugenics.18 The two beliefs hardened the distinction between the “deserving” and “degenerate” poor—which would drive penal policy for the next decades. 

Historically, and depending on wider social, economic and political forces, the role of the probation officer has been unclear: Is he a friend, a social worker, or a police officer? Cast as a “friend” by Progressive reformers, probation officers collected data and facts about how poor and working people lived—which they then reported back to judges to inform criminal sentencing.19 Today, at least 35 states, including New York, allow probation officers to carry firearms. As numerous probation officer manuals underline, the job is “to befriend those under his care, to win their confidence, and to study their temperament, abilities and special needs.”20

In front of a judge, a person’s life and background could determine whether he or she was worthy of a second chance. While states historically differed on the rules that probationers should abide by,21 work and stable employment were seen as important markers of rehabilitation. John Augustus’s detailed reports became an integral part of probation officers’ casework. Those who came from respectable or hard-working families were more likely both to be rescued and bailed out by Augustus and to be placed on probation. Today, the moral judgment of individual probation officers has been supplemented by various risk-assessment tools that distinguish “low” from “high” risk populations, with the latter receiving a higher level of supervision. In such evaluations, class, ethnic, and “racial” distinctions continue to play an important role.


Modern probation and the management of risk

In the dystopian sci-fi film Elysium, Matt Damon plays Max, a convicted car thief fresh out of prison and trying to eke out a living among the surplus populations inhabiting the wasteland that is Los Angeles in 2154. The rich have all escaped to Elysium, a circular space station orbiting the Earth, a utopia free of disease, war, and poverty. As part of his rehabilitation, Max risks radiation exposure every day, working in a factory where he assembles police robots that brutally enforce “law and order” on Earth. One day, on his way to work, he is singled out by two robot cops, beaten, and arrested for a probation violation, while onlookers stand around helpless. In my favorite scene, Max visits his parole officer, making his way through crowds of waiting people. The officer is a robot, his electric box blaring out Max’s most recent violation and extending his parole by another eight months. Max tries to explain, but to no avail. Noting a rise in Max’s heartbeat, the robot officer asks him whether he would like to take a pill. It also informs Max that the “personality metrics” system suggests that Max has a 78% chance of “regression to old behavior habits.” To some, this may seem far-fetched science fiction, but to anyone with experience of probation, it accurately captures the frustration of knowing the power that a PO has over you. 

Today the use of risk-assessment tools by probation officers to determine the needed level of “community supervision” can make them look and feel robot-like. These “tools” consist of a series of questions that result in a score which determines the level of supervision. Answers that can yield a high score include acknowledgement of a lack of housing and employment, of previous arrests, etc. High scores result in more intense supervision: weekly meetings with the PO, home visits, random drug tests, etc. Lower level supervisions are often less stringent and, if the probationer is lucky, can mean checking in at a kiosk, a computer system equipped with video screen, keypad, and infrared scanner. Similar to the robot officer in Elysium, after entering personal identifying information, the kiosk asks the probationer to report any re-arrests, employment, or counseling needs. Getting to a kiosk, however, is often a long-drawn-out process, especially for cases that probation officers deem “high risk”: it requires following the orders of your PO very closely.

In recent years, risk-assessment tools have come under scrutiny as a new way to code race and class under the pretense of objectivity. For example, a 2014 Urban Institute Study of four localities—Dallas County, Texas; Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District (SJD); Multnomah County, Oregon; and New York City—showed that black probations were revoked at higher rates than white counterparts. Differences in risk-assessment scores and supervision levels played a major role. Many probation officers complain about the use of risk-assessment tools, arguing that they take away from their own intuition about what their client needs. While probation officers have to use the risk-assessment tool, they can supplement it with their own recommendations, which probationers have to follow for fear of violating parole.

The requirements to find work and housing and to avoid contact with the police are often basic conditions. The few people who meet these conditions are mostly funneled to low-wage work in the service industry. Probation officers are ill equipped to find people jobs; they can only recommend numerous job-training and workforce programs in the hopes that participating in these will dissuade young folks from a life of crime. In many ways, Meek Mills is our contemporary version of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, who manages to rise above his circumstance but is continuously hunted by the law. Like Valjen’s pursuer, Inspector Javert, the judge assigned to Meek Mill’s case scrutinized his every move. She even showed up to see if he was properly completing his community service hours. 

Today more than ever, the idea that work can transform “criminals” into “productive citizens” is dubious at best. Increased economic insecurity and low-wage jobs make “productive citizenship,” the penal-welfarist goal on which probation was founded, seem like a pipe dream. Instead, the function of community supervision resembles more that of the prison: a way to manage poverty and growing surplus populations in deindustrialized urban cores. The success of second-chance programs that rely heavily on probation depends not only on how well rigid organizational bureaucracies embrace “change,” which is how many liberal reformers frame it, but the extent to which each state and county can absorb surplus populations.


Second chances in the era of the jobless future and the perils of reform

Today, mass incarceration has entered a crisis of legitimacy. It is pushed to the edge not only by Black Lives Matter protests but also by the fiscal crisis of the state. In an otherwise divisive political climate, mass incarceration continues to draw Republicans and conservatives together around “smart decarceration,” narrowly defined as using the latest “evidence-based” practices to cut down significantly the numbers of incarcerated people. In 1994, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist drafted a “Contract with America,” which would become the GOP’s central manifesto, which included the “Take Back Our Streets Act” that sought to expand prison constructions and proposed tougher punishments like “three strikes, you’re out.”22 Today, they are both supporting the “Right on Crime” initiative and clamoring for a “smarter” approach to crime while relying on less incarceration.23 In the state of Georgia, where 1 in 17 people are on probation, and where in 2015 two thirds of those imprisoned were incarcerated for probation and parole violations,24 Norquist and Gingrich are participating in private-public led partnerships to “fix” the state’s prison system, the fifth largest in the nation.25

While criminal justice reforms at the state level are important because mass incarceration is mostly a local phenomenon, such reforms continue to be aimed at non-violent offenders, who make up a small portion of those incarcerated, thus making only a small dent in the behemoth that is the American carceral state.26 For example, the new Georgia probation reform bill passed recently will allow for early discharge of non-violent offenders while intensifying probation supervision for those deemed “high-risk,” a judgment usually determined by an algorithm derived from risk-assessment instruments. We are not witnessing decarceration but instead a mutated form of what has been called “late mass incarceration,” whereby new sentencing reforms follow a “bifurcation strategy”27 that determines which groups are worthy of a second chance and makes a harsher distinction between non-violent and violent offenses.

Movements against incarceration today are in a bind: a small window of opportunity presents itself to push for reforms, yet most of these reforms will accomplish very little, especially if they merely shift the incarceration from the state to county and local levels. In California, perhaps the largest experiment in contemporary decarceration, the “realignment” initiative has temporarily resolved overcrowding in prisons by shifting incarceration from the state to local level, leading to an expansion of county jails.28 In New York another “success story”: the state has closed juvenile detention centers upstate and relocated youth “closer to home,” in facilities run by non-profit organizations.29 Currently, reformers are seeking to replace Rikers Island with a series of smaller neighborhood jails.30 In Texas, efforts to reduce juvenile incarceration in favor of community-based corrections have expanded the role of probation and county detention.31 Demanding that more people be released from the grasp of probation, jail, and prisons is not enough if they are being returned to neighborhoods that either cannot absorb them for lack of material resources or fight against accepting them. Federal funding for reentry has been meager at best. Obama’s Second Chance Act, continuing the work begun by George W. Bush, announced in 2008 in Newark, New Jersey—America’s northern underbelly of deindustrialization and urban misery—was seen as a step forward, because it provided federal resources for formerly incarcerated people. In reality, it provided chump change for the 600,000 individuals released from jails and prisons each year. In other cases, local neighborhood residents have been resistant to absorbing those returning home. In a working-class section of the Bronx, for example, a group of homeowners has recently blocked the operation of a new transitional home for incarcerated women, arguing that it will ruin the neighborhood.32 The dorm rooms sit empty. 

As Reuben Miller argues,33 rehabilitation (including probation) is utterly meaningless in the contemporary labor market. Instead of finding meaningful employment, people are shuffled back and forth between different (and often well-intentioned) non-profit organizations to earn workforce certificates. If they are lucky, they find employment in temporary low-wage jobs that guarantee very little security or stability.

Current debates around expansion of alternatives to incarceration ignore important historical lessons of reform. The deinstitutionalization and decarceration movements of the 1970s led some critics to observe that these movements were “more mystical than real, and what is real [was] the transfer of responsibility for ‘social junk’ from state budgets to various combined welfare-private profit systems that cost the state less and provide numerous entrepreneurial opportunities.”34 Today, we are witnessing a similar transfer of the power to punish and rehabilitate away from the state and towards the private and (increasingly) non-profit sector. Yet we are told that our aberrant criminal justice system can be tamed through policy and reform to be transformed into a more humane and just system that will prioritize public safety and rely as little as possible on incarceration. This “carceral humanism”35 has led to an obsession with alternatives to incarceration and various forms of community supervision, which are cheaper than prisons and most often place the burden of rehabilitation and reentry back into poor and working class communities and to a handful of under-funded non-profit organizations.36

As I have argued, programs originally envisioned as alternatives to incarceration over time become integral to the criminal justice system. Probation is today so enmeshed in the carceral net that often for many people, as Meek Mill’s case shows, it is a funnel into jail and prison. We should also be weary of analyses that emphasize the fiscal crisis of the state as a motivator of criminal justice reform. As the 1970s showed, fiscal crisis is not a good indicator of state policy—many, for instance, believed that decarceration would follow the logic of

deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals.37 Instead, we got mass incarceration and its attendant forms of carceral state formation. When push comes to shove, states find creative ways to manage the crisis.

One thing we can surely count on is that the specter of black unemployed youth, shoved by liberals and conservatives alike into urban ghettos, workforce programs, juvenile detention centers, and prisons, will continue to haunt America. In a flash, the mixture of black poverty and repressive policing tactics ignited two major riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, spreading protests across major American cities. While today the term “underclass” is no longer in vogue to describe the swaths of “outsiders”38 created by deindustrialization, another concept is taking its place: “disconnected youth.” The term is shorthand for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither employed nor in school. In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 7 young people are “disconnected.”39 

In the aftermath of the Baltimore uprising, while Orlando Patterson penned a critique of the culture of inner city youth40 in the comfort of his Harvard armchair, Baltimore teenager Allen Bullock, a friend of Freddy Gray, languished in the city’s Juvenile Justice Center, facing nine years in prison and a half million-dollar bail for allegedly smashing the windshield of a police car—a violation of his juvenile probation. Orlando Patterson’s concern with shoring up a cultural explanation of the rise of “disconnected youth” across deindustrialized urban city cores reflects an older divide between the black elite and the working class that the uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson made evident.41 The city of Baltimore has one of the highest youth “disconnection” rates in the country.42 A year later, twenty foundations came together to figure out how to deal with this crisis. Thus far, a $26 million rehabilitation project is projected to bring in a café, a writers’ cooperative, and a shared office space for nearby Morgan State University classes.43 Yet it is unclear how this sort of redevelopment will spur the local economy, which has been overtaken by the drug trade as manufacturing and steel industries closed shop.

Since the 1970s, mass incarceration has been the main strategy for managing populations increasingly rendered superfluous by deindustrialization. This strategy includes casting a wide carceral net over entire neighborhoods of mostly poor and working-class communities of color, supplementing the threat of incarceration with a brutal police force, surveillance, and mass community supervision.44 The power of criminal justice institutions and state actors like prosecutors has proven very difficult to reform.45 Today, growing discontent is leading to piecemeal solutions and the expansion of alternatives to incarceration which, as history suggests, have the real potential of becoming new forms of social control. Furthemore, as Marie Gottschalk reminds us, these contemporary criminal justice reforms are framed by a concern with recidivism and “evidence-based” practices, which ignore changing labor market conditions as well as the ways penal policy developments are most importantly the result of political decisions and struggles.46 Reforms that would make a dent in the carceral state are those that can close prisons and jails without expanding community supervision, reduce sentencing, and limit the power of prosecutors and policing forces. This requires galvanizing millions of people across different sectors of American society, which is challenging in itself but also, because of the power yielded by law enforcement, correctional unions and interests. Nonetheless, they are still important and worthwhile to fight for.

Today, movements seeking to undo mass incarceration must also grapple with a difficult dynamic: even if the carceral state was rolled back to pre-1970s levels, structural problems remain. Jock Young, a British radical criminologist writing in the 1980s provided a prescription for crime reduction which sought to revive some basic social democratic demands such as ensuring that people have access to “meaningful work at fair wages,” housing, etc. to address growing relative deprivation or the poverty that creates crime. These social democratic demands remain the horizon of contemporary social movements that seek to undo the egregious effects of mass incarceration. Yet, growing surplus populations and the shifting character of work require a different mode of imagination, one that has yet to be realized.


  1. The posters are sponsored by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Michael Rubin, owner of an online sports retailer company and placed around Philadelphia to promote his case. See Dan Deluca “Who is Behind Those ‘Stand With Meek Mill Billboards’” November16, 2017 (
  2. Joseph A. Slobodzian, “Meek Mill Becomes PA Inmate ND8400,” Inquirer, November 8, 2017. (
  3. Maura Ewing, “How Minor Probation Violations Can Lead to Major Jail Time,” The Atlantic, June 9, 2017. (
  4. Jay-Z, “The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill,” Jay-Z: The New York Times Opinion, November 17, 2017 (link)
  5. Michelle S. Phelps, (2013) “The Paradox of Probation: Community Supervision in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Law and Policy: 35, 1-2
  6. Shilton, Mary K. Community Corrections Acts for State and Local Partnerships. American Correctional Association; Washington DC: 1992.
  7. David Garland, (Gower Publishing 1987) Punishment and Welfare: A History of Penal Strategies
  8. The terms “social junk” and “social dynamite” were coined by Steven Spitzer in his attempt to provide a Marxist analysis of deviance. “Social junk” are those segments of the poor who had no fight in them and who were managed largely through the processes of spatial containment. On the other hand, “social dynamite” are those segments of the surplus populations whose potential to organize posed an actual threat to the established political and economic order. See Steven Spitzer (Social Problems, June, 1975) "Toward a Marxian Theory of Deviance"
  9. Matthew C. Klein, Sept. 8, 2016, “The Great American Make-Work Progamme,” Financial Times Alphaville. Also for a critique of automation as the bogey man and scapegoat for people’s anxieties about their relationship to stable employment and to the labor market, see Jason Smith’s two-part critique in Brooklyn Rail (March 2017) and most recently Aaron Benanav’s talk ( “Automation and The Future of Work” (Sept. 2017)
  10. Gottschalk, Marie Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics Princeton University Press 2014 pp. 244; For a classic study on how criminal records and race affect people’s access to employment, see Devah Pager (March 2003): “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” AJS 108: 5, 937–75
  11. Reuben Miller and Amanda Alexander (2016) “The Price of Carceral Citizenship: Punishment, Surveillance, and Social Welfare Policy in an Age of Carceral Expansion” Michigan Journal of Race and Law 21:2 pp. 295, 311.
  12. The Council of State Governments Justice Center, Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review, Working Group Meeting 1: review of justice reinvestment process and proposed scope of work (January 12, 2016), 37. Massachusetts Trial Court Fines and Fees Working Group, Report to Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey (Boston: November 17, 2016), p. 6.
  13. See Maurice Vanstone Aldershot: Ashgate 2004 Supervising Offenders in the Community: A History of Probation Theory and Practice; David Rothman ((Little, Brown 1980) Conscience or Convenience: The Asylum and its Alternatives in Progressive America.
  14. The book I refer to in the rest of the text was republished by the National Probation Association in New York (1939) with an introduction by Sheldon Glueck, Professor of Criminology, Harvard Law School.
  15. See Anthony Platt’s [University of Chicago Press 1977 (1969)] classic study of the role that class interests played in the creation of the juvenile justice system in the United States: The Child Savers. 2nd edition. For a more recent historical account of how race and class shaped responses to African-American juveniles, see Geoff K. Ward (University of Chicago Press 2012) Black Child Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice
  16., see principle XV
  17. This vision was implemented by Zebulon Brockway, a participant of Congress and hailed as the “father” of the “rehabilitative ideal” at the reformatory in Elmira which incarcerated first-time youthful offenders between the ages of 16 and 30. While he promised benevolent reform, he delivered cruel punishments including whippings and solitary conferment. “The kindly rhetoric of Elmira’s highly successful public relations and marketing campaign,” as historian Anexander Pisciotta argues, “masked a repressive class control agenda.” See Alexander W. Pisciotta (New York University Press: 1994) Benevolent Repression: Social Control and the American Reformatory-Prison Movement
  18. An interesting example of this is the life of Katherine Bemin Davis, the first superintendent of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York State’s second reformatory for women designed to house mainly urban inmates from New York City—many of which were arrested for vagrancy and prostitution related charges. Davis studied political economy under Thorsten Veblen in Chicago, helped DuBois collect data in Philadelphia (she was a settlement house worker) and ushered many rehabilitative reforms as a superintendent of Bedford Hills—which was proclaimed as “the most scientific institution of its kind in the world” by the Prison Association of NY. In 1918, she became head of Bureau of Hygiene (Rockefeller Jr's agency which linked biology to crime) and by 1920 joins the Committee on Eugenics of the Advisory Council. See Ellen Fitzpatrick (Oxford University Press: 1994) Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform and most recently Philip Goodman, Joshua Page and Michelle Phelps (Oxford University Press: 2017) Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle Over Criminal Justice
  19. Probation Officers Manual 1913
  20. Rothman, 65.
  21. “Wilmington, Delaware, ordered probationers to attend some church and to be home not later than eleven o’clock. Jackson County, Missouri, would not allow probationers to marry if single, or to divorce if married.” (Rothman, 90)
  22. Ironically the main tenets of “Contract with America” were taken up by the Democrats and incorporated into Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill along with more funding for community policing officers. Yet, while much of the mass incarceration literature faults the 1994 Crime Bill with the spike in mass incarceration, other scholars argue that the upward trends in incarceration occurred much earlier. Jeremy Travis “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014).” Also see John Pfaft New York Times Bill Clinton is Wrong about His Crime Bill: So are the Protestors he lectured” April 12, 2016
  26. Gottschalk, Marie Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics Princeton University Press 2015
  27. Christopher Seeds “Bifurcation Nation: American Penal Policy and Mass Incarceration” Punishment and Society (2017) 19:5 pp. 590-610
  28. Anat Rubin 2015 “California’s Jail-Building Boom”
  29. Alexandra Cox “Juvenile Justice Reform Leaves Teens Behind” City Limits
  30. Jarrod Shanahan and Jack Norton (2017) “Jail to End All Jails”
  31. Sarah Cate (2016) “Devolution, not decarceration: The limits of juvenile justice reform in Texas” Punishment and Society 18:5
  32. Zoe Greenburg “A House for Women Leaving Prison Sits Empty” New York Times, December 27, 2017
  33. Reuben Miller “Devolving the Carceral State: Race, Prison Reentry and the Micro-Politcs of Urban Poverty Management” Punishment and Society 16 (3) 305-35.
  34. Andrew Skull Decarceration: Community Treatment and the Deviant: A Radical View 1981:726
  35. Kilgore, James Repackaging Mass Incarceration June 6, 2014 Counterpunch
  36. Reuben Miller calls this process ‘carceral devolution.’ See also, Zhandarka Kurti and Jarrod Shanahan “Rebranding Mass Incarceration: Lippman Commission and Carceral ‘Devolution’ in New York City” Forthcoming in Social Justice (2018)
  37. Carol A.B. Warren “New Forms of Social Control: The Myth of Deinstitutionalization” American Behavioral Scientist 24: 6 July/August 1981 724-740
  38. James Boggs called “outsiders” those left behind by the forces of automation and deindustrialization (what some called “the underclass”) and who could, he argued, hold revolutionary potential. See chapter 4 “The Outsiders” in The American Revolution: Pages from Negro Worker’s Notebook. 39
  40. Orlando Patterson May 2015 “The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities” New York Times Op-Ed
  41. There are three particular good accounts of this. See Endnotes’ John Clegg’s “Black Representation After Ferguson” (May 3, 2016) Brooklyn Rail and Cedric Johnson’s “The Panthers Can’t Save Us.” Catalyst 1:1
  43. Yvone Wanger “Nonprofit aims to breathe new life into vacant East Baltimore warehouse” The Baltimore Sun June 25, 2017.
  44. Loïc Wacquant (Duke University Press, 2009). Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Insecurity
  45. Jonathan Simon (Oxford University Press 2007) Governing Through Crime: How The War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear; James Forman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2017); Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America; John Pfaff (Basic Books, 2017) Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform For a good historical overview of the role that correctional officer unions have played in prison reform, see Jarrod Shanahan “Solidarity Behind Bars: NYC’s Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association” Brooklyn Rail September 7, 2017.
  46. See Gottschalk, Marie Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics Princeton University Press 2015 Also new book which examines criminal justice reform as an outcome of political interests and struggles, see Phelps, Michelle and Josh Page (Oxford University Press: 2017) Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle Over Criminal Justice.


Zhandarka Kurti

Zhandarka Kurti is an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2018

All Issues