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Cruel Failures: Arizona’s Prison Healthcare Crisis and The Making of Penal Life

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In this dissertation, I critically interrogate the nexus between punishment and healthcare. The provision of care is a significant capacity of punishment as it is situated across the founding ideals of the prison, the build-up of mass incarceration, and current political discourse surrounding criminal justice reform and public health. As taken up in the context of Arizona in the early 21st century, this project positions penal care as a means to stage broader debates and interventions in socio-legal studies, critical prison studies, and theories of subjectivity. By approaching a prisoner healthcare class-action lawsuit as a type of archive, this dissertation engages political, aesthetic, and ethical critiques of punishment, suffering, and care. Through an archival analysis of the prisoner rights lawsuit, I read its legal texts and artifacts as a dynamic discourse of institutional catastrophe, biological and psychological suffering, and failed legal reforms. First, I show how the privatization of Arizona’s prison health care system not only reflected broader processes of social abandonment, but reveals the mechanisms and machinations that position the prisoner’s health and life as resources to extract and exhaust. Second, I demonstrate how the prisoner’s healthcare claim is in excess to visual depictions and interpretive frameworks of suffering, human rights, and civil death. The repetition of the prisoner’s plea intrudes upon the very terms of mastery implied by the image and the subject. Lastly, I explore various discourses that bring together notions of care and punishment to think about their structural relationship and what it might mean to respond ethically to the prisoner’s demand. Here, I formulate an ethics that is staked on our constitutive failure to prevent suffering and how this might implicate our refusal of penal care regimes.

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This item is under embargo until January 10, 2025.