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Institutions and Incarceration: Liat Ben-Moshe “‘The Institution Yet to Come’: Analyzing Incarceration Through a Disability Lens”

This article attempts to show the theoretical, historical, and pragmatic connections between systems of institutionalized confinement for mentally disabled people and for those in the criminal justice system. Ben-Moshe believes that recent analyses of the “rise of incarseration” do not sufficiently take into account the populations incarcerated within public and private institutions against their will.

Indeed, Ben-Moshe argues that the marked increase of imprisonment rates corelates to a related increase in the diagnosis of severe mental illness and the incorporation of costodial care for the mentally disabled with the prision complex. Both types of confinement are justified under a logic of exclusion, wherein perceived dangerous or uncontrolable individuals are sequestered for permanent segregation, rather than integration with the community. A disability studies influenced critique of the prison system would advocate for the mental care of those in prisons and for programs that work to redress economic inequalities that lead to poverty, crime, and often, disablement.

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I initially chose this piece hoping it would give me insights for thinking about institutions that segregate and “serve” populations with cognitive impairment. It turned out that the article focuses much more strongly on tracking important trends in public policy surrounding demographic shifts in prisons and mental facilities.

The Foucaultian concept of the hybrid discourse may be useful. Ben-Moshe employs the term to refer to the cross-discursive matrix that surrounds imprisonment: doctors and judges collaborating in the “care” of these different sets of undesirable citizens. I wonder if the concept would help to think of the intersection of medical and educational discourses that characterize learning disability discourse.

*** Next up from the Disability Studies Reader: Douglas C Baynton, “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History” and Elizabeth D. Emens, “Disabling Attitudes: U.S. Disability Law and the ADA Amendments Act”

*** Also reading: Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg’s The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.

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