February 21, 12-1:30PM, a co-sponsored meeting: Kaya Williams, Anthropology PhD Candidate: Public, Safety, Risk – Captive Logics and Speculative Investments of Pretrial Incarceration in America

Please join us for our next meeting of Money, Markets, and Governance Workshop, which we are pleased to hold in collaboration with the Urban Workshop, on coming Tuesday, 2/21, in Social Science Research Building classroom 106, at 12pm – 1:30pm.
Please note the change in location and time from our usual meetings. 

Kaya Williams
PhD Candidate,  Anthropology, The University of Chicago

Public, Safety, Risk: Captive Logics and Speculative Investments of Pretrial Incarceration in America

Abstract: In the United States criminal justice system, there are three primary forms of incarceration: incarceration as punishment for a crime, incarceration while awaiting the outcome of a case in criminal court, and incarceration while awaiting the outcome of an immigration case. This paper deals with the second of these forms: pretrial incarceration in local jails. Based on ethnographic research conducted in New Orleans, Louisiana from 2011 to 2015, the paper interrogates the logics of public safety and risk at work in U.S. practices of pretrial incarceration; arguing that attempts to combat the growing scale and brutality of American practices of captivity cannot themselves succeed while held captive by these logics. I trace ethnographically two attempts to reduce New Orleans’ reliance on incarceration: first, the introduction of a pretrial risk assessment into pretrial release decisions and second, the attempt to limit the use of commercial bail for municipal offenses. In both cases I examine the ways in which arguments for less incarceration and arguments for more are held equally captive by logics of public safety and risk that presume the necessity of holding large numbers of poor people of color and extremely poor whites in violent captivity despite their innocence in the eyes of the law. I trace the histories of these logics in U.S. legal and financial history, highlighting the investments in whiteness and white power built into American conceptions of the public, of safety, and of risk and tracing the structures of credit and debt on which the U.S. criminal justice system relies and which it serves to perpetuate.  

Questions about the workshop or accessibility concerns can be addressed to yanivr {at} uchicago {dot} edu

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