The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Johanna Römer with a Dossier in our From the Field section.
“The history of prisons in Spain?” a Catalan prison guard asked me, a man in his mid-forties, his hands resting on a heavy leather belt. “Everything has already been written. Our vocabulary, our forms of punishment – even the word cell itself, all come from Catholic and monastic practices.”
He turned to face the thick glass wall of the bunker.
“I spent years teaching…in law enforcement, in the private sector, and now I just want to be here, with these guys [inmates], where I can have peace and quiet,” he said, nodding towards a small group of men talking softly around a checked tablecloth whose color was imperceptible through the glass.
“Look at that. No one makes problems.”
While monitoring the inmates through the glass, the guard narrated other stories of prison work; but his last seemingly unremarkable comment, “no one makes problems,” stayed with me.
The topic of surveillance packed a powerful punch this month, with the court releasing documents regarding Stingray technology capabilities. After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments. The publication comes nearly 3 months after initial buzz about the tool that circulated after a suspect’s phone was used by police to track him to his apartment prior to obtaining a warrant. The more notable specifics of the technology can be found here.
The problem of prison over crowding is presented by Alyse Berenthal’s article in Anthropology News this month. As an anthropologist interested in the ethnographic aspects of justice, Berenthal spent time working with people in self-help legal clinics. By restricting definitions of justice to the individual level, Alyse work offers insights to the pitfalls of an over burdened justice system.
The truth is in the data. The proof is in the series of graphs presented by Nicole Flatlow in Think Progress’ article about the existential growth of the US prison population. States like California are so over-populated with prisoners that courts have ordered that prisons take steps to reduce inmate populations. Local jails are feeling the pain of overcrowding, with large volumes of low-risk or offenders awaiting trial making up a large proportion of total prisoner populations.
Also in surveillance is Kirsten Weld’s post about the institutionalization of intelligence gathering by the US. From the Spanish-American War, to FDR’s administration, to the aftermath of 9/11: it becomes apparent that data mining is nothing new to the US’ administrative history. Whether or not the US has a right to act as “global policeman” has yet to be determined by both the law and its citizens.
Stingray technology was not the only cause of raised eyebrows this month. James Eyers of Financial Review put tap-and-go credit card technology under scrutiny in a post from earlier this month. Some departments are criticizing tap and go transactions; pointing to higher theft and break-ins by criminals looking for this specific type of credit card. Banks are standing by their anti-identification policies, stating that crime inevitably changes alongside technological innovations and they as a financial entity cannot be held accountable.
First shared in May, Mother Jones’ post by Katie Quandt was popular again this month. Entitled “What it’s like to visit your mother in prison on mother’s day”, Quandt reflects about the impact of her foster sister’s incarceration on her role as a mother. The article comes shortly after Sesame Street’s recent initiative to talk about challenges children with parents in prison face, citing that 1 in 28 children fall into this category (with that stat increasing to 1 in 9 children among African American children).
Have plans to lounge beachside this summer? If so, you can’t miss David Thompson’s “must read” journal articles for Spring 2014. Catch up on the latest in anthropology and policing in scholarly publications here.
Border Criminologies announced their recent initiative to first digitize and eventually physically document material works by UK immigrants. The archive is intended to act as a reminder of the creative process of individuals even during times of extreme stress and uncertainty. It serves to emphasize the role of material culture in criminology.
Should community policing lead the way in 2014? Steve Early advocates for this approach in In These Times pose on June 23rd. He attributes the more “reactive policing” approaches to post-9/11 emphasis on response. Would regular officer assignments result in higher reliability ratings from the public? Should community relationship building be instated to replace reactive responses?
June kicked off with a post by Scott Shafer of NPRNews regarding the drastic increase in California parole rates. Where previous years saw less than a 10% release rate for “lifers”, 2013 recorded a near doubling of this statistic. California governor Jerry Brown has reiterated that crime type is no longer as much of a determining factor for parole as is the level of threat an inmate poses to the community. For more about the parole increase, check out Matt Levin’s article about lifers freed from prisons as well as his timeline cataloging the history of California parole trends.
“To the radicalized youth who demonstrated in 14 Brazilian state capitals on May 15, the World Cup represents a fundamental flaw in the Workers’ Party (PT) project,” writes Rodrigo Nunes in a news post from Aljazeera. While your friends are busy blowing up your Facebook feed about the soccer of World Cup, Brazilians continue to show outrage that the event has brought their country few winners, but many losers. For more about the political implications of the World Cup, check out Werner Krauss’ article on the Huffington Post. Here, he dissects the event from a structural-ritual perspective. Anthropoliteia also featured a post from Meg Stalcup in our continuing coverage of the World Cup.
It’s not just police getting virtual these days- so are crime scenes. In a personal favorite post by Kashmir Hill of Forbes, Hill recounts the Internet trail left behind by Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger. The troubled youth produced several YouTube videos documenting his gradual decline into criminal violence.
What would Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault have to say about Lebanese prison systems? Yazan al-Saadi’s post on Al-Akhbar evokes this and other questions about surveillance and control. The original panopticon envisioned a top-down power structure wielded by authority figures over non-authority figures. In the context of Lebanese prisons, however, this concept is turned on its head as it is the prisoner who seemingly wields ultimate control. Also in surveillance, the wife of ex-IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre has requested a formal investigation by the US state department after sensitive information from a phone call with the US embassy appeared in a popular tabloid a few days later.
An unlikely economical analysis of police body mounted cameras appeared in The Motley Fool’s investing section. Ryan Lowery reflects on the potential profitability of the leading police tech companies (including TASER and L-3 Communications) that produce the majority of the equipment.
Issues of excessive force, surveillance and militarization come to a head in Kent Paterson’s post on CounterPunch. Using recent examples of militaristic responses by members of the Albuquerque police department, Paterson builds up to a broader discussion about the impact of police technologies on aggressive responses and use of force by US police departments.
Juvenile detention centers in California will be receiving $80 billion in coming months to rejuvenate current facilities. Several proposals for amenities and new features reinforce a community-based emphasis. Officials hope the restructuring will help to solidify rehabilitation as a prevailing theme.
Tina Dupuy authored an engaging piece about casual vs. institutionalized racism in AlterNet this month. Why does the US rally more readily against casual comments than it does to institutionalized forms of racism (such as the prison system)? And further, does/can one form of racism lead to the other?
“Ban them, ban them all with a carve out for hunting weapons,” says Scott Martelle from LA Times Opinion. Referring to his admittedly minority stance on gun control in America, Martelle proposes the next steps for eliminating gun violence in America.