Monday, November 8, 2010

"Birth of the Prison:" Race Behind Bars

While reading "Birth of the Prison," I couldn't help but think of the current trend of black males in the carceral system. I don't think that this topic is after Foucault's time, and I believe his analysis of the origins of the prison connects to modern prison demographics.

2004 (
incarceration rates by race graph

In discussing the prison cycle, Foucault writes, "Although it is true that prison punishes delinquency, delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration which, ultimately prison perpetuates in its turn."

The rates of black male imprisonment has become so high, that it seems like the prisons are producing black males. The prevalence of black male criminals and black males in jail perpetuates ideas of what a criminal should look like. Thus, recycled perceptions of the black male as aggressive dangerous, and criminal. Tea Party member, Al Reynolds made this perception quite clear in his remark in October that, "Minority men find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs or other avenues rather than do education. It’s easier.” Sadly, such racialized remarks as these are dominating representations of black men (

Foucault says, "The prison is merely the natural consequence, no more than a higher degree, of that hierarchy laid down step by step. The delinquent is an institutional product."

The prison is a natural consequence for social hierarchy and the disadvantaged state of the black male. He is disadvantaged in both education and the work force. He is more likely to be poor. All of these factors increase his likelihood of ending up in prison.

The notions of institutions of "repression, rejection, exclusion, marginalization" are all tangible effects of the carceral system on black males.

Thankfully, positive steps have been made to reduce the disproportionate and at times, unfair imprisonment of black males. Before the passing of a recent bill for example, blacks caught with crack received heavier sentences than whites caught cocaine, the same substance


  1. A bit old, but I thought this article related to what you were talking about:

    I tried finding one that the Times ran on juvenile detention centers in upstate New York, where there were a lot of cases of excessive force and many instances where kids who needed psychological treatment weren't given any... But I can't find it.

  2. MM,

    Congrats on beating me to all of the choice quotations from Discipline and Punish! Maybe you should just teach the class for me from now on ;--)

    Here's the artcile from The Hatchet that I mentioned today in class. We've been giving that paper a lot of, um, press up here. Should we tell 'em?

  3. Not old at all Kate. Totally relates to my post. "One in nine black men ages 20 to 34" is a much better indicator of the issue than my chart (which is definitely dated). Really sad, upsetting statistic...

    I'll let the Hatchet know, I write for them :)