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The Second Coming: Gender, Profit, and Carceral Drug Rehab

Wed, Nov 15, 5:00 to 6:20pm, Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon C, 5th Floor


In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would no longer use private prisons to house federal prisoners. For critics of mass incarceration, the Justice Department’s decision came as a welcome sign that the influence of private vendors like Corrections Corporation of American and the Geo Group was on the wane. Prison privatization, however, involves not only the use of privately operated facilities but also the provision of an extensive array of medical, therapeutic, and treatment services in public prisons. Over the last decade, these and related services account for the majority of the private prison industry’s growth and enduring profitability, even in the wake of prison closures and reductions in size of the U.S. prison population. In this paper, I explore the provision of for-profit carceral drug treatment and trace its origin to an unlikely source: women’s prisons during the War on Drugs. Women’s correctional facilities proved a useful testing ground for carceral rehab at a time when treatment services were otherwise rejected by policymakers as too “soft” a response to crime and drug use. Gendered assumptions about criminality and drug addiction, coupled with racial anxieties about Black women’s fertility and labor market participation, paved the way for private vendors to market, develop, and ultimately expand their services to a broad array of correctional venues and populations.


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