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Hyper-Incarceration as a Multidimensional Attack: Replying to Angela Harris through The Wire

Frank Rudy Cooper

Suffolk University Law School

October 25, 2012

Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 37, p. 67, 2011
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 12-47

Angela Harris’s article in this symposium makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of hyper-incarceration. She argues, quite persuasively, that the term “gender violence” should be understood broadly to include men’s individual and structural violence against other men. She then considers what we ought to do about the incredible increase in incarceration, mostly of racial minority men, over the past 40 years. She terms this “mass incarceration” and argues that it is best dealt with by a shift from “restorative justice” to “transformative justice.” Whereas restorative justice emphasizes bringing together various elements of the community to repair the harm done by a crime, transformative justice goes further by emphasizing the racist and heteropatriarchal forces leading to the crime and preventing the healing of both the harm doer and communities.

It is hard to criticize Angela Harris. She is, after all, a founder of critical race theory and critical race feminism. Her article in this symposium demonstrates the depth of her insights and clarity of her expression. Nonetheless, I want to challenge Harris on one point and extend her analysis on another. First, for reasons I will explain, I believe it is crucial for scholars to start referring to so-called “mass incarceration” as “hyper-incarceration.” Second, I want to extend Harris’s analysis of the multidimensionality of identities by means of a case study of how class operates during the drug war era, as depicted in the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire.

To establish those arguments, this essay proceeds as follows. Part I explains the importance of the term “hyper-incarceration.” Part II defines a multidimensional masculinities approach to the relationships among identities, culture, and law. Part III uses an analysis of The Wire to argue that identity theorists should pay greater attention to capitalism. Part IV concludes that addressing hyper-incarceration requires simultaneously reducing the stigma attached to racial minority men and rebuilding economic structures in the inner-city.

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Date posted: October 27, 2012 ; Last revised: November 27, 2012

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Frank Rudy, Hyper-Incarceration as a Multidimensional Attack: Replying to Angela Harris through The Wire (October 25, 2012). Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 37, p. 67, 2011; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 12-47. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2166984

Contact Information

Frank Rudy Cooper (Contact Author)
Suffolk University Law School ( email )
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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