The Critical Disability Studies and Critical Prison Studies caucuses invite paper proposals for a jointly sponsored panel at the American Studies Association conference in Chicago in 2017. We seek papers exploring the phenomenon of “carceral humanism” in policing, jailing, and other forms of imprisonment and institutionalization.

James Kilgore names as “carceral humanism” the strategy of portraying jails and immigrant detention centers as social service providers, especially mental health service providers, in order to secure more funding and public support for these institutions in the face of now mainstream critiques of racially disproportionate mass incarceration (“Repackaging Mass Incarceration,” Counterpunch, June 10, 2014). The attempt to divert funds to jails and detention centers in the name of rehabilitation, health and wellness is alarming given that urban and rural communities continue to face massive gaps in mental health services and survival resources, such as housing, for disabled people.

Disabled scholars, artists, and activists, such as Leroy Moore, have pointed out that disabled people, especially disabled people of color, are disproportionately targeted for police brutality and abusive treatment while imprisoned. Because policing and imprisonment work to debilitate, injure, and harm people, both physically and psychically, activists have critiqued attempts to portray sites of surveillance and incarceration as spaces for healing and creating wellness.

We seek papers and panelists that bring the frameworks of critical disability studies and critical prison studies to bear on various forms of carceral humanism, such as:

  • Mental health jails/units or mental health care (or lack thereof) in county jails
  • Therapeutic policing
  • Gender responsive prisons; ‘gay’ units in jails and prisons
  • Geriatric care in prisons
  • Group homes on lockdown
  • Administrative segregation units for transgender prisoners
  • College dorm style immigrant detention centers
  • Community corrections
  • Incarcerated and detained families and mothers with children
  • Facilities for the “criminally insane”

What do critical prison studies and disability studies each bring to bear on the phenomenon of carceral humanism and similar historical practices? How are institutions of policing and imprisonment presenting themselves as supposed providers of care, health, and wellness, or how have they done so in the past? What are the consequences of such collisions? How do policing and sites of imprisonment work to debilitate and disable? What lessons can we learn about prison abolition from the effort to deinstitutionalize the containment of disabled people in the mid-twentieth century?

Please submit by January 10  to Jess Whatcott ( and Liat Ben-Moshe ( the following information: paper title; maximum 500 word paper abstract: and first name, last name, affiliation, e-mail address, and a 350 word biographical statement. 

Post date: January 3, 2017

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