New paper: “Mapping the shadow carceral state”

There’s a new paper in pre-print in Theoretical Criminology: ‘Mapping the shadow carceral state: Towards an institutionally capacious approach to punishment’ which might be of interest to carceral geographers.

In the paper, Katherine Beckett and Naomi Murakawa of the University of Washington, USA, argue that although recent scholarship has highlighted the expansion of the US carceral state (and estate), ‘criminal law and criminal justice institutions increasingly represent only the most visible tentacles of penal power‘ (p2, my emphasis). In an attempt to ‘map the more submerged, serpentine forms of punishment’ (ibid) they describe the ‘shadow carceral state’, which they argue makes use of legally liminal authority, where punitive power is expanded through the combination of civil, administrative and criminal legal authority.

They identify the capacity of institutions in the US which are beyond what is ‘formally’ recognised as the criminal justice system, to impose punitive sanctions including incarceration, and they liken this situation to Cohen’s (1979) dystopian vision of the ‘punitive city’, with blurred boundaries between inside and outside, fuzzy definitions of ‘crime’, and ‘dispersed state social control beyond the prison walls’ (p2). In particular, there’s a table within the paper that shows the types of legal charges for which incarceration is a possible outcome, and whether or not the state defines such incarceration as ‘punishment’. The ‘shadow carceral state’ is manifest in part in these ‘not-punishment’ incarcerations.

Beckett and Murakawa argue that ‘a variety of institutional actors have manipulated the ostensibly discrete boundaries of civil, administrative and criminal law, thereby creating and/or enlarging non-criminal pathways to punishment’ (p18). For carceral geography, the paper represents a call for research not to focus exclusively on the ‘tail-end’ of the carceral process – incarceration itself – but to widen its scope to consider both the carceral state and the ways in which it ‘ensnares and sanctions’ by creating new non-criminal routes to punishment which impose regulation of restriction of mobility, and the legal opacity between civil, administrative and criminal law which make this possible.

Carceral geography recognises the parallels and overlaps between incarceration as a result of the criminal justice process, and, for example, the detention of migrants with unclear or contested legal status; a forthcoming book and seminar series specifically seek to draw together scholarship of these practices rather than to see them in isolation. The idea of the ‘shadow carceral state’, though, pushes this further, encouraging us to think about the carceral state as well as the carceral estate, what ‘punishment’ means, what constitutes it, and the ‘consequential pathways’ (p18) that lead to incarceration.