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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Deprivation and Depravation: Moral Policing of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women

  • Author(s): Gurusami, Susila
  • Advisor(s): Ortiz, Vilma
  • Saguy, Abigail C
  • et al.

In this article-based dissertation, I investigate how Black women navigate the everyday challenges that emerge from state surveillance and criminalization after incarceration. I use 18 months of ethnographic observations and participatory-action methods to investigate how Black women navigate their everyday lives after prison or jail. This project reveals what carceral ideologies and practices often conceal: the intersectional lives of women whose experiences are mediated through the criminal justice system and the urban spaces they reenter after months or years behind bars. Through the everyday lives of formerly incarcerated Black women, I illustrate how reentry institutions mobilize ideologies about the criminally deviant Black female subject to justify invasive practices of surveillance and punishment. I capture how the criminal rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated Black women is framed as a moral imperative to achieve independence from the state, yet at the same time, punitive state practices—like finding women in violation of post-release supervision requirements for failing to acquire full-time employment within months of release, despite employment discrimination experienced by people with felony histories— tie these women to the state in perpetuity. Across articles on mothering, the labor market, and citizenship, I demonstrate how reentry institutions produce carceral crises across the dimensions of formerly incarcerated Black women’s lives. I also reveal how these women resist state intrusions and frame their navigation of carcerality as evidence of Black female ingenuity and strength.

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