The Carceral Body Multiple: Intake in the New York City jails

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

This ethnographic dissertation project is an applied philosophical project that takes an ontological and critical phenomenological approach to the enactment of carceral bodies. This dissertation set out to answer two central questions. First, how do jail intake processes enact carceral bodies (analog and digital) and what are the ontological implications? Second, how are jail intake processes reflective of the values and logics of a carceral society? The process of answering these questions offers an early attempt at empirical abolitionist science and technology studies research as it offers an intervention in the essentializing biomedical and criminological understandings of "the criminal." This is achieved by tracing the enactment pf carceral bodies across the domains of datafication, space, and time.

First, with the advent of digital technologies, the science and technology of criminality continues to be informed by the desire to use metrics to identify and define criminal man. Like their precursors, however; when taken together these quantified characteristics contribute to the production of a body predisposed not to crime but to incarceration. This predisposition arises out of datafication and algorithmic characterization. The data comprising the raw material of this assignation pulls together the digitization of one's race, ethnicity, school (reflective of the school-to-prison-pipeline), address, sex, socio-economic status, disability status, mental health status, etc. Carceral algorithms, and the structures they arise out of, inform one's incarcerability.

The carceral body of data and its risks are multiple and are represented in a number of ways, just as it is experienced variously. There are infinite permutations of the intake process across which categories come to stand in for human suffering, for risk, for job performance, etc. The data generated and its infrastructures are reflective of the broader political and socioeconomic context. The role of data collection, management, and analysis surrounding the intake process makes visible the politics and stakes of the carceral bodies enacted.

The two primary epistemologies and attendant professions brought to bear upon the carceral body are medicine and criminology. These epistemologies rely upon quantification, categorization, and calculations of risk to generate data from which carceral knowledge is made (and in turn makes). This project characterizes the data infrastructures of the jails as socio-technical objects, practices, and architectures that are multiple and complex. It is through this lens that managerialism, algorithms, and knowledge production are characterized. Together, these facets provide insight into the making of carceral bodies of data and the logics and mechanisms of the carceral-data-industrial-complex.

Second, this project addresses the spatialities that carceral bodies are generative of and situated in. The spaces of intake are suffused with values, politics, and epistemologies that play out in a number of ways. In order draw out these facets, the ontological approach was integrated with carceral geography. This approach elevates micro-scales of space and time, placing the personal and particular beside within the broader social and political contexts. This shift in scale has important implications for the study of correctional facilities as it is from this scale that the complexities, relationalities, materialities, contradictions, and multiplicities are visible.

This approach relates to Foucault's carceral archipelago, which conveys the complexities of carceral spaces, surveillances, and their leakiness. Carceral geography's reading of Foucault requires an engagement across carceral societies that incorporates the body as a prime site from which to understand complex dynamics of control. Carceral geography offers a helpful approach drawing out spatialities enacted through performances and experiences, making concertina wire fences permeable and ever-mutable. The carceral body carries carceral spaces within it and beyond it that arise out of epistemes, policies, and practices that are mutually reinforcing and enmeshed. These embodied spaces include emotions and mental self-scapes alongside digitally recorded diagnoses and correctional designations.

When considering how security infrastructures permeate society, well beyond correctional facility gates, this has important implications for this carceral society. The buildings and physical spaces of incarceration are read as reflective of the values and logics of the state, this brings into view the extra-penological function of incarceration, in which specific populations are disproportionately removed and disciplined/ punished by the state even before they are determined to be guilty or not guilty by a court. This hyper-incarceration of certain populations underlines the spatial logics of carceral networks that reflect the machinations of a neoliberal state that disappears those who have been Othered via carceral networks. This takes on even more problematic hues when considering the torturous conditions unsuitable for any creature, including humans.

Third, despite Western constructs of linear or absolute time, the study of the carceral temporal body demonstrates the relativities, multiplicities, and disjunctures that challenge the notion of a universal clock. This dissertation tells of carceral bodies made into and across multiple time points. Bodies become metaphoric timeclocks through managerial oversight processes in which they are assigned varying times across different electronic record systems, with these different from their time of arrest and remand. In this space, the temporal jurisdictions diverge, giving rise to frictions and conflict. Further, these assigned temporalities differ greatly from the ways time is experienced across embodied states (e.g. experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms).

The theoretical frameworks employed to understand carceral time are designed to address how carceral bodies come to be anticipated. In part, this is enacted through professional and bureaucratic routines that are often protracted and repetitive. These routines give rise to waiting and urgency. This empirical engagement with carceral temporalities draws out epistemic and experiential forces.

Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that drawing out the ontological multiplicities of mass incarceration can countermand its fixities and generate abolitionist epistemologies. Abolition has generative potentials that coalesce with science and technology studies' investment in the otherwise. Over time carceral abolition has come to refer to a wide range of social movements, theoretical frameworks, and activism. The various approaches to abolition share a sense of urgency and resistance to gradual or eventual change, as this has historically led to the perpetuation and maintenance of racialized criminal justice systems and mass incarceration.

Carceral epistemologies (e.g. penology, criminology, biomedicine, public health) are steeped in racisms and classisms, which inform broader imaginaries of crime and criminality. As political discourse has been reduced to simplistic chants and pithy soundbites, the aim of this dissertation has been to "complicate the discourse" surrounding the carceral-industrial-complex and the carceral body in particular. Understanding the carceral body through its ontological multiplicities serves as the grounds from which resistances to the status quo can be formulated. This is vitally important in light of the diffuse assemblages detailed in this project and the pervasiveness of carceral logics.

In sum, this dissertation has demonstrated that carceral bodies are made and not born. It points to the difficult work still needed and the utility of ethnography in eliciting the multiplicities of practices and materialities in carceral settings. The abolitionist dreams arising from this project demand the embrace of ontological multiplicities as new logics and imaginaries unweave the criminal justice system. While it does not fall within the purview of this project to delineate a specific set of directives, it does suggest that abolitionist dis-epistemology requires logics and tactics equally as multifaceted and nuanced as the criminal justice system itself.

carceral body, abolitionist science and technology studies, jail, ontology, critical phenomenology