Friday, March 27, 2009

Humonetarianism: The New Correctional Discourse of Scarcity

Diligent followers of recent correctional policies may have noticed a recurring leitmotif in our discussions of various different initiatives and solutions to the crisis. I refer, of course, to money. Recent examples we've discussed on this blog were the Death Row moratoria; the demise of Prop 6, mainly due to costs; the San Quentin Death Row expansion; the cuts to the overall budget; the battles regarding the Community Justice Center; and, of course, this recent quibble about Prop 9's counsel provisions. It seems like, in the last few months, the only arguments for or against any given correctional policy are all about the money.

I've started working on a broader piece about this. Here's the abstract:
What do a community court, an expansion to Death Row, and an extension of incarceration periods prior to parole have in common? All three have recently fallen out of favor with California correctional policymakers, not for substantive reasons, but for lack of resources. This paper analyzes the impact of the financial crisis on correctional policies in California, identifying an emerging discourse I call “humonetarianism”. Humonetarianism is characterized by a value-free, superficial, cost-centered approach to correctional initiatives and institutions, which are assessed by their contribution to the state’s deficit rather than on their actual or even perceived merits.
The paper opens by tracing the history of humonetarian discourse and its interaction with the punitive, public-safety-centered discourse of corrections since the 1980s, and the actuarial warehousing policies of the 1990s. The history of sentencing and parole policies in the state shows how humonetarianism emerged when punitive policies, pushed to their logical conclusion, became untenable. The paper continues by providing several examples of humonetarianism: the 2008 correctional propositions (5, 6, and 9), the San Francisco Community Justice Center, the expansion to San Quentin’s Death Row, the decrease in parole supervision over foreign-born inmates, and the recent Plata/Coleman tentative decision. It then generalizes, from these examples, the main features of humonetarianism: cost-driven discourse, political bipartisanship, and a sense of emergency. While this discourse may appear, at first blush, to be less punitive than policies from previous decades, the paper argues that it is extremely harmful in the long run, due to its superficiality, cynical usage by interest groups, and shortsightedness.
I'll be happy to get your feedback on the idea, here, or by email to aviramh at uchastings dot edu.

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