Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speaking for Himself: Professor Loic Wacquant Corrects My Characterization of His Critique of the Concept of the Prison Industrial Complex

Last June, I sent a memo to participants in a PIC Communiversity Course that my organization sponsored. In it, I made this argument regarding discussions about the term “prison industrial complex.”
We spent the first two sessions trying to understand the history of prisons and how the PIC operates. One area of debate that we did not broach is whether the term “Prison Industrial Complex” is a good construct to explain the expansion and encroachment of surveillance and incarceration over the past 30 years. There is a pitched battle of ideas in the academic community about whether the PIC is a useful way to describe mass incarceration. Sociologists like Loic Wacquant contend that the PIC is a misguided frame as an explanatory construct for mass incarceration. For information about Wacquant’s critique, you should read his book “Prisons of Poverty.” This is the shorter, more reader-friendly version of his book “Punishing the Poor.” Chris Parenti is another person who is a critic of the term “Prison Industrial Complex.” He contends that prison spending is much less than that of the “military-industrial-complex.” As such, he takes issue with the term. He has other criticisms that he has offered as well.
Finally, in the past couple of years, some have begun to use the term “Corrections-Industrial Complex” instead of PIC. These people contend that since the fastest growing segment of carceral supervision today in the U.S. is probation, it makes more sense to think of this phenomenon as the CIC instead. Former inmates are often still under some form of supervision once they leave the walls of prisons (GPS tracking, intensive parole, etc…). Others who come into contact with the criminal legal system are not incarcerated but are given probation and come under the surveillance of the state too.
We have not discussed these debates in this course because of the limited amount of time that was available to us. I did however want to bring this to your attention in case you are interested in reading more from some of the academics that I mentioned earlier.
Personally, I continue to find the term “Prison Industrial Complex” to be a good frame for discussing the issues that we have over the past five months. This is why I continue to use it. In particular, I rely on Critical Resistance’s definition:
Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political ‘problems’.”
I received an e-mail today from Professor Loic Wacquant.  As a sociologist myself, I greatly value engaged dialogue about ideas.  I reached out to Dr. Wacquant and asked if I could post his response here. He graciously agreed.

Read the full post at US Prison Culture

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