Children of Incarcerated Parents and the Paradoxes of Agency under Mass Incarceration

Authors: Samuel Maull*, Stanford University
Topics: United States, Urban Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: incarceration, agency, kinship, risk,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Edgewood AB, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I will discuss the ways that children of incarcerated parents (CIP) are understood as being simultaneously risky and at risk and the ways that they attempt to construct a political identity and personal subjectivity within this paradoxical framing. Children of incarcerated parents are, in the wake of public awareness of mass incarceration, coming to form a site for contesting the individualist conception of punishment and rehabilitation which grounds mass incarceration. They are called forth as innocent victims of the drive to punish which has swept the US over the past half century, their connection to their parents affectively demonstrating the broader social impacts of mass incarceration. These very connections, however, are also mobilized in modern, risk management regimes of policing to identify CIP as a next generation of criminals – statistically marked as a category with a high likelihood to be incarcerated themselves. As one CIP advocate put it “I know that they’re building these jails for me.” Following 3 years of ethnographic field work with CIP, my work outlines the ways that CIP distinguish themselves from their parents by emphasizing their agency over their own lives. Simultaneously, CIP activists and advocates work to evoke their relationship with their parents under the absence dictated by their parents’ incarceration. Ultimately, these overlapping instances of mutuality and independence trouble the understanding of agency which underpins the responsibilitizing logic of the criminal justice system itself.

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