Hyper-Incarceration as a Multidimensional Attack: Replying to Angela Harris through The Wire
23 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2012 Last revised: 27 Nov 2012
Date Written: October 25, 2012
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.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation