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Democratizing Leviathan: Bureaucrats, Experts and Politics in the Transformation of the Penal State in Argentina and Chile

  • Author(s): Hathazy, Paul Carlos
  • Advisor(s): Wacquant, Loïc
  • et al.

This dissertation investigates how post-authoritarian Argentine and Chilean state penal bureaucracies changed their organizational goals and practices. It dissects how, in the first two decades of democracy, professional strategies, bureaucratic interests and domestic political forces, all operating within historically specific and structured local penal policing, criminal courts and carceral fields, (a) shaped the elaboration of reform plans attempted within the police, criminal courts and prisons administrations, (b) determined the differential evolution of the police, criminal courts and prison bureaucracies and (c) defined the new overall architecture and functioning of the penal sector of the state in these two countries.

Following a Bourdieusian field theory perspective, I explain the distinct evolution of these penal organizations since the turn to electoral democracy resulting from the interaction of three basic mechanisms: the reconversion strategies of penal experts to gain positions within the policing, criminal courts and carceral fields, the struggles between top-level penal bureaucrats and central governments agents in these fields over field-specific authority, and the political orientation of the central government as determined by the properties of the reconstituted political field after the transition to democracy.

In the cross-country comparative analysis of the evolution of the police, courts and prisons of Chile and those of the federal criminal justice system of Argentina, I follow how these mechanisms interacted in specific combinations that produced different outcomes. I explain why, in Chile, only the highly autonomous police ended up changing policing from national security to citizens security, and incorporating managerialism, community policing and accountability practices and only the highly autonomous courts incorporated new accusatorial criminal procedure dominated by proactive and independent prosecutorial admninstration, models introduced by the new experts, while the less autonomous prison administration, even if it expanded, did not change in line with the new programs emphasizing rehabilitation and inmate rights. In Chile, I argue, the constant pressures of the consensus-oriented party system produced change in the police and courts, but discontinuity in prison reform, as political interests and concerns ended up eclipsing bureaucratic authority and standards. Using the same approach, I explain why the three historically heteronomous police, court and prison administrations in the federal bureaucratic field of Argentina ended up not incorporating these new models that democratic-era reformers proposed there, which were similar those of Chile. This outcome was a result of the continuous interference of the highly volatile party system and the changing orientation of the executive branch, which limited the institutionalization of new models and expertise within the highly heteronomous penal organizations.

I follow in four chapters the interaction of these mechanisms and their outcomes in terms of the evolution of penal bureaucracies and the reconstitutions of each penal field. I first compare and explain the evolution of the police in Argentina and Chile (chapter two). Next, I examine the transformations in their criminal courts (chapter three), and then turn to the mutations in the prison administrations (chapter four) in democratic times. In chapter five, I integrate these independent processes to describe the structural and symbolic reconstitution of each penal field. There I analyze how the processes in the police, criminal courts and carceral fields produced a distinct reconstitution of the penal sector of the state in democratic times, with a new structure of relations among the core penal bureaucracies, new symbolic regimes, distinct material effects and different modalities of penal policy-making. In Chile, the penal sector of the state evolved from a space controlled by military agents and a logic of counterinsurgency during the dictatorship, into one integrated under the dominance of expanded and reformed criminal courts, which served to legitimize both the expanded and panoptic police as well as the enlarged but unreformed warehousing (semi-privatized) prison bureaucracy. In Argentina, by contrast, the struggles around organizational reform, which produced very limited changes in the goals and functioning of bureaucracies, led to a functionally and symbolically fractured penal state, where each bureaucracy turned to traditional goals and modalities of operation. In the penal field, weak courts did not come to control the still despotic police nor come to legitimize the despotic prison bureaucracy.

At the crossroads of debates in the sociology of penality and of studies of the contemporary Latin American state, this study (i) contests and complicates macro-structural and impersonal models of penal change by focusing on the strategies of agents and organizations operating in morphologically distinct policing, courts and carceral fields; (ii) explains, combining evolutionary and diffusionists models of penal transformation, the new orientations of penal bureaucracies and the novel morphologies of the reconstituted penal fields after the retreat of the military from controlling criminal justice institutions during dictatorship; (iii) accounts for the variations across countries, questioning narratives of institutional penal convergence in contemporary Latin America, and (iv) contributes to an understanding of the material and symbolic role of the penal apparatus in the post-authoritarian Latin American southern cone states and societies.

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