White Claims to Illness and the Race-Based Medicalization of Addiction for Drug-Involved Former Prisoners

24 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2015 Last revised: 2 Dec 2015

See all articles by Erin Kerrison

Erin Kerrison

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: 2015


Critical Race Theory scholars have long argued that the War on Drugs is a war waged against low-income, Black urban citizens. However, as the spotlight has shifted somewhat from policing street drug use and trafficking among poor, inner-city Blacks, to concerns about the chronic pharmaceutical substance abuse of middle- and upper-class White suburban citizens, so, too has the rhetoric. Some aspects of contemporary penal discourse have evolved from the “Get Tough” orientation of yesteryear to a revived rehabilitative agenda, designed to treat and heal wayward souls. The depraved, incorrigible, and inherently pathological drug-using caricature of twenty years ago has taken on a lighter, more sympathetic hue. If White privilege confers upon its possessors the right to hold themselves in higher esteem, arguably even the deepest of drug entrenched individuals may be granted space to construct the onset and longevity of their addiction as processes external to their will. Rather than embrace the ineluctably criminal persona assigned to Black addicts, White users may instead claim their victimhood, illness, and eschew accountability. This essay examines interview narratives from a mixed-race sample of 304 drug-involved former prisoners, and focuses on how respondents conceive of their addiction and the extent to which race modifies ownership of a deviant status.

Suggested Citation

Kerrison, Erin, White Claims to Illness and the Race-Based Medicalization of Addiction for Drug-Involved Former Prisoners (2015). Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice, 31, 105-128, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2658675

Erin Kerrison (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

POB 13234
Oakland, CA 94661
United States

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