A talk on the topic “Sociology in a time of mass incarceration” was held at the Social Science conference Hall, School of Social Sciences. The talk was organized by the Department of Sociology. The speaker Dr.Suvarna Cherukuri, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Siena is an alumnus of University of Hyderabad, School of Social Sciences. The main domain of her study is Sociology of Law.

The talk discussed about the social phenomenon in the US that is mass incarceration and its sustained growth. As Dr. Suvarna talks of Masses, she underlines the fact that this mass is very uneven proportion of the population of the US that serves prison term. It’s usually the African-American who are imprisoned. Her data of crime record focuses on the 60’s and 70’s in the US.

Through the talk she established how penalizing of crime has its root in the tradition of slavery. How -By charging the freed slaves with the minor of the offences and putting them in jail .Making them work just like factory laborers. How in the name of producing employment opportunities and utilization of inmates the prisons flourishes like industrial complexes. Most importantly these prisons are profiting from the war on crime. Prisons are no more institutions housing criminals but have become industrial complexes producing goods. This activity indicates a nexus between Government interest and the Industry.

Further expanding on this she quotes Michel Foucault,”Modern penal punishment is the way to discipline, mastering the human body. Punishment is a process of regulation. Punishment is an expression of pattern of domination in the society.” One needs to question the criminal punishment. As to what actually it is serving. It also seems that society is a passive recipient of the states policy.

The three important aspects she lines out regarding Mass Incarceration are-

-Selectivity of the crime and punishment. What counts as crime?

-Sustenance (What explains the sustenance of punishment in the changing society)

-Salience (How social process of punishment achieves salience across different levels of society.)

As one goes to look at who actually falls under this category of Mass Incarceration ,one can draw that racial inequality is being recreated through this phenomenon .The identity of people getting punished also reveal how everyday social prejudice is getting packaged and repackaged.

She also threw light on how indeterminate sentencing policy was replaced by determinate sentencing in 1975.How during this time crime gained importance in national debate. In these debates one can see crime being conflated with the race. How punishment was mandated and made lengthy through laws .The Rockefeller drug law that changed the system of punishment. Private prisons became the ground for sustaining racial subordination, even after abolition of slavery. As Michel Alexander states in his book The New Jim Crow,”Mass Incarceration is a new racial caste system.”

The conclusion she presented was that the crime rates have actually declined in comparison to the 60’s and the 70’s yet the population of prison inmates is on the rise. Something to think about.

The talk was followed by Q & A session where Dr.Suvarna pointed out the punitive culture of school and its relation to imprisonment in later life.

-Zeenat Shana, Department of Communication