† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
We Join Forces with Truthout to Separate “Criminal Justice Reform” Fact from Fiction
By Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg
For several years, the weekly Criminal Injustice series here at Critical Mass Progress has focused on policing and punishment at the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, and disability. Week after week, we examine and help to expose racist myths concerning “crime,” “criminals,” the criminal legal system, and expansion of the prison industrial complex (PIC). We help connect readers to organizing resources – groups, analysis, information – in order to help people better understand the far reach and unholy, brutal influence of the PIC.
And we will continue doing that, right here. Week after week. Why is it so important? Because, as Prison Culture points out, the prison industrial complex “structures our world.” That’s no exaggeration: surveillance, criminalization, and coercive/violent control of peoples and communities regarded as “less than,” even as disposable, is the paradigm for too much of U.S. civic life. As abolitionists, we oppose this death-dealing paradigm and, in concert with so many others, imagine and organize for different, more life-affirming ways of creating new structures of justice.
As part of this effort, we’ve also been among the first to critically examine the feel-good phrases – sentencing reform, community corrections, reducing prison expenditures – used more recently to galvanize support for “bipartisan criminal justice/prison reform.” The art of the sound byte currently dominates the discussion. But these phrases don’t always have unambiguous meaning, and some “reforms” may actually make things worse, especially in the long run.
So many justice advocates and organizations are embracing generic promises of “reform” without asking what’s really embedded in the initiatives. And without recognizing that because prisons, policing, and punishment structure so much of our society, meaningful structural transformation requires a vision that is interdependent, that sees how this connects to that. “Criminal justice” was never a standalone issue. Some reform measures deserve our support; others deserve consignment to oblivion. But how do we tell the difference, clearly and usefully?
Criminal Injustice & Truthout
In order to support that effort, and in addition to continuing with the Criminal Injustice Series, we’re joining with Truthout.org to examine what really is – and is not – embedded in emerging proposals for criminal justice and prison reform. The new series is called Smoke and Mirrors: Inside the New “Bipartisan Prison Reform” Agenda.
“Smoke and Mirrors is a new series that dives into the details of “bipartisan prison reform” to reveal the right-wing, neoliberal carceral sleight of hand that’s really at work. By asking hard questions about the content and consequences of various proposals and exploring ways in which commitments to unregulated free markets, privatization and states’ rights drive the agenda, Smoke and Mirrors shows how this new generation of reforms will reinforce structural racism, intensify economic violence and contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society.”