Is ‘Decarceration’ Even a Word? The Legal Reform of Mass Incarceration in California

Colloquium | March 7 | 4-5:30 p.m. |  2538 Channing (Inst. for the Study of Societal Issues)

 Anjuli Verma, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow, Jurisprudence and Social Policy, UC Berkeley

 Center for Research on Social Change

Scholarship on mass incarceration in the U.S. has surged over recent decades, for good reason. However, this talk pivots attention to prison downsizing and decarceration as emergent social facts in the 21st century. Prisoner rights litigation (Brown v. Plata 2011) in combination with state law and policy innovations in the form of Public Safety Realignment (Assembly Bill 109 2011) and the voter-initiated Proposition 47 (2014) have made California the current epicenter of prison downsizing. Realignment legislation devolved criminal justice supervision from the state to the county level, making counties responsible for the penalties they impose for a sizeable class of offenses. The present research investigates how California’s 58 counties responded to this challenge. Findings from the first in-depth analysis of the state’s prison Realignment will be presented with respect to a key question: will Realignment result in system-wide decarceration, or merely the relocation of incarceration to alternative institutional sites, such as local jails? Multiple methods are used to describe and explain different responses and identify the local conditions that appear to have made decarceration possible in some places but not others. Discussion of the theoretical and policy implications will confront foundational questions about the social organization of governmental power and conditions of institutional change and resistance, as well as urge the field to revisit deinstitutionalization as a distinct social process with consequences for stratification and inequality, community health and wellbeing, and human dignity.

 crsc@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0813