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Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism

Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism

Andrew Dilts
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism
    Book Description:

    At the start of the twenty-first century, 1 percent of the U.S. population is behind bars. An additional 3 percent is on parole or probation. In all but two states, incarcerated felons cannot vote, and in three states felon disenfranchisement is for life. More than 5 million adult Americans cannot vote because of a felony-class criminal conviction, meaning that more than 2 percent of otherwise eligible voters are stripped of their political rights. Nationally, fully a third of the disenfranchised are African American, effectively disenfranchising 8 percent of all African Americans in the United States. In Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida, one in every five adult African Americans cannot vote. Punishment and Inclusion gives a theoretical and historical account of this pernicious practice of felon disenfranchisement, drawing widely on early modern political philosophy, continental and postcolonial political thought, critical race theory, feminist philosophy, disability theory, critical legal studies, and archival research into state constitutional conventions. It demonstrates that the history of felon disenfranchisement, rooted in postslavery restrictions on suffrage and the contemporaneous emergence of the modern "American" penal system, reveals the deep connections between two political institutions often thought to be separate, showing the work of membership done by the criminal punishment system and the work of punishment done by the electoral franchise. Felon disenfranchisement is a symptom of the tension that persists in democratic politics between membership and punishment. This book shows how this tension is managed via the persistence of white supremacy in contemporary regimes of punishment and governance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6245-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. A Note About the Cover
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. 1 A Productive Injustice
    (pp. 1-26)

    It might be helpful to start with some numbers. At the start of the twenty-first century, roughly 1 percent of the population of the United States is in jail or prison.¹ Roughly 3 percent of the population of the United States is “on paper,” that is, on parole or probation.² In forty-eight states and the District of Columbia, incarcerated felons cannot cast a vote; in thirty-five states, parolees cannot vote; in thirty of these, felons on probation cannot vote. In nine states, disenfranchisement may be permanent for certain offenses. And in three states—Kentucky, Virginia, and Iowa—disenfranchisement is for...

  7. 2 Fabricating Figures
    (pp. 27-50)

    When taking up the question of felon disenfranchisement, we typically assume that the normative terms of the debate have already been settled, and we also often fail to appreciate that the practice of disenfranchisement might be performing some very useful work for us, even if that work is illiberal, unjust, or contradictory. As a result, not only do we fail to be the kind of liberals who attach ourselves to an ethic of inclusion, but also we attach ourselves to a specific assumption and way of thinking about punishment and citizenship generally and criminality and voting rights in particular:the...

  8. 3 Neoliberal Penality and the Biopolitics of Homo Œconomicus
    (pp. 51-84)

    Figures—such as those described in the previous chapter—are fabricated for largely strategic purposes, resolving or managing the tensions and outright contradictions that occur between the exercises of power by various actors, institutions, practices, and ways of knowing that form entire social and political bodies. In a sense, we are what we do, solidified in a time and place contingently but nevertheless materially. The figure of the felon and the practice of disenfranchisement are no exceptions, as they come into being over time and in a specific place and they change in their form and their practice as actors,...

  9. 4 To Kill a Thief
    (pp. 85-109)

    It is difficult to overstate John Locke’s influence on the American project and the formative effects his thought has had on our thinking about rights, liberties, and self-government. Beyond the obvious debt to Locke that is identifiable in Thomas Jefferson’s careful choice of words in the Declaration of Independence, the Lockean social contract framework continues to hold the attention of the public imagination in the United States and serves as what Michael Sandel has called a public philosophy.² In the specific context of the legal and philosophical debates over criminal disenfranchisement, the specter of Locke and his contractarian thought have...

  10. 5 Innocent Citizens, Guilty Subjects
    (pp. 110-139)

    As Angela Davis put it during an interview with the philosopher Eduardo Mendieta inAbolition Democracy,

    Why has the disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies become so much a part of the common sense thought structures of people in this country? I believe that this also has its roots in slavery. A white contemporary of slavery might have remarked: “Of course slaves weren’t supposed to vote. They weren’t full citizens.” In the same way people think today, “Of course prisoners aren’t supposed to vote. They aren’t really citizens any more. They are in prison.”²

    The analogy Davis draws works so...

  11. 6 Punishing at the Ballot Box
    (pp. 140-169)

    If we follow Judith Shklar’s lead and take up the history of suffrage but this time with an eye toward the exclusion of criminals from the franchise, we seehowthis exclusion has figured “American” political membership as normatively white and innocent, linking them closely together. We can trace how the vote and the practice of voting have performed the work of social differentiation and how it continues to do so today. The vote does this work so effectively, especially in a period of de jure color-blindness—in which overtly racist justifications have become publicly untenable—because the vote has...

  12. 7 Civic Disabilities
    (pp. 170-200)

    This book has attempted to track a series of interrelated conceptual claims to help us understand the practice of felon disenfranchisement. First, punishment and political membership are deeply related discourses and have been throughout the history of the United States and in its broadly liberal tradition. Second, criminal disenfranchisement is a practice that sits at the intersection of these discourses, straddling them productively. Third, one of these “products” is the figure of the felon, who comes into being as a criminological figure to manage these discourses through a seemingly excessive and disproportionate punishment. Lastly, it is through attention to this...

  13. 8 (Re)figuring Justice
    (pp. 201-224)

    As I noted at the beginning of this book, there is no shortage of good reasons to condemn disenfranchisement and agitate for its end. It is pointless punishment, it is racist, it reproduces racial inequalities, it is excessive and cruel, it is an administrative nightmare, it undercuts the value we place on self-government, it skews electoral results, and on and on. At its core, it surely reflects an aberration of deeply held values and violates liberal and civic republican theories of justice. But it also performs discursively useful work by bringing into existence the very categories of thought and the...

  14. Coda
    (pp. 225-228)

    On July 8, 2013, nearly thirty thousand inmates across the state of California began refusing meals as part of a coordinated hunger strike against deplorable prison conditions in the state. This hunger strike is a renewal of a 2011 hunger strike organized by inmates in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California. The SHU is often referred to as “prison within a prison” by officials who insist that the twenty-three hours a day of solitary confinement imposed on inmates is reserved for the “worst of the worst.” This can only be said to be...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 229-288)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-316)
  17. Index
    (pp. 317-324)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-326)