Probing the Penal State
May 5 and 6th JSP co-sponsored a conference titled "Probing the Penal State" that brought together faculty and graduate students from Princeton, University of Chicago, and Berkeley. The conference was organized by Loic Wacquant, of Berkeley's Sociology Department, and Bruce Western of Princeton's Sociology Department. Students reported on a wide range of scholarship exploring aspects of hyper incarceration in America and its correlates. Topics included ethnographies of parolees who work in the commercial day labor industry and of young black men in urban Philadelphia who spend much of their time in legal limbo wanted on warrant, and quantitative research on the affect of incarceration on families. The conference reveals a distinct revival of socio-legal research on penal institutions. In the 1980s when I was in JSP, it was one of the few places to study the growing trend of hyper or mass incarceration in America. Few if any sociology or political science graduate students were encouraged to do research on penality. Today it is very much on the agenda of both disciplines, as well as economics and psychology. JSP continues to attract students interested in the field. Santhi Leon, a recent Boalt JD who is working on a dissertation on the new wave of sex offender laws presented some analysis of the forms of psychiatric expertise mobilized in earlier periods of heightened enforcement of laws against sex offenders. Kellie Bryant, who just completed her first year in the JSP program, presented a paper on the Supreme Court's decision of last year in Johnson v. California, holding that California's practice of segregating some inmates on the basis of race as a hedge against gang violence must be tested against the heightened standard fo racial classifications. Bryant sees the case as balancing two faces of the penal state, rights protector and security enforcer.
For further information on the conference see: