Introduction to the Special Issue
This special issue of the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology pays critical attention to systemic forces that impact Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color (BIWOC). It honors, respects, and reinforces the visibility of BIWOC not only as targets, survivors, activists, and community advocates relative to carceral systems, but showcases our presence as scholars with expertise across its components. In both instances, there continues to be erasure and invisibility that we hope to transform through this series. Reclaiming Our Stories takes on this challenge. This special issue highlights intersectional qualitative work, which includes articles written by BIWOC criminologists and social scientists that critically examine BIWOC experiences within carceral systems.
There has been a longstanding contentious relationship between the United States criminal legal system and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color widely (BIPOC). This tension dates back to the onset of U.S. history and is rooted in Eurocentric imperialism, settler colonialism, and subsequent, racial construction—all of which are intrinsically linked to white political economic dominance, saturated power and influence, and socialized systems (i.e., the criminal legal system). Each dimension justifies and reinforces the other in ways that reflect and project ideological and institutional racism. White actors and institutions have persistently upheld this arrangement; it is hierarchical racial-spatial maneuvering (Boyles, 2015; Boyles, 2020) whereby the dominant violently initiates and benefits from the ever-evolving “disordering” (Boyles, 2019) and imposing of racial categories, rankings, and social definitions on BIPOC generally. The American society writ large has been structured accordingly for the sake of securing white interests and, more broadly, all-encompassing white supremacy. The consequence of this has been the persisting normalizing and protection of whiteness, as if not raced, but rather the template for humanity. BIPOC, contrarily, are then historically and discriminatively subject to racialization—desperate and accumulative typecasting, objectifying, stigmatizing, and pathologizing, as if we are inhuman, uncivilized, and deviant. Institutions emerge from and sustain this false premise. Widespread socialized ideas about crime, criminality, and the criminal legal system as a corrective response are a significant part of this distortion and oppression; thus, white actors, institutions, and the broader society stereotypically depict us as flawed, inferior, and therefore, wholly deserving of differential treatment. The scrutinizing and penalizing of our lives continuously play out like an American pastime.
These power dynamics have also been true and exacerbated by gender, class, and other socially stratified identities. Race is not the lone determinant for these kinds of differential issues and experiences; there are other white-perpetuated, socially-maligned statuses that require considerable attention in the broader analysis. We—as Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color (BIWOC)—face intersecting discrimination both institutionally and daily as a result of these overlapping power dynamics. As such, our experiences are not singularly or separately felt distinctive to Blackness or Brownness, or sex alone for instance, but rather they are accrued as a “matrix of domination” (Collins, 1990) at the intersection of racism, sexism, and state violence (Crenshaw, 1991). It is in this sense that we situate and focus our own experiences and expertise as conjoined empowerment. These dominant-imposed vestiges of power (or the lack thereof) and their impacts on BIWOC has and continues to be largely reduced, erased, and ultimately unaddressed. Taken together, this underscores the rigidity of race and gender paradigms systemically, and the need for ongoing, deliberate, and deeply-vested attention.
The convergence of white, patriarchal, and capitalistic framing correspondingly and persistently undergird relationships and interactions across all social spaces, making them conducive for BIWOC exploitation and victimization. This exploitation is possible as race- and gender-based harms are still dichotomously segmented and prioritized for others at the expense and exclusion of BIWOC. Racial plights and liberties have always been resigned and mostly prioritized for Black men, with gendered liberties similarly reserved for white women (e.g., voting rights). We—as BIWOC—have had to subsequently contend with exclusion despite our laboring, which translates to providing the groundswell for advancing social justice with little-to-no direct returns from it. This has been especially true, historically and consistently, for Black women as suffragists and leaders of the progressive movement. As this interplay and inequity remain prevalent, we BIWOC collectively feel and counter its negative implications.
We push back on micro- and macro-level social forces and systems that not only harm, but by extension, fail to substantively acknowledge, incentivize, and protect us. Rather, they are structured to informally and formally control us. We take up space empirically, therefore highlighting these patterns and cycles of institutional negligence as constants. More directly, we bear down on the criminal legal system in that we trace and find it to be an inherently raced and gendered state apparatus like other studies (Jones 2009; Potter 2006; Potter 2013; Richie 2012; Young 1986). It continues to be an ardent perpetuator institutionally, and most notably, for obstructing, delaying, and denying full citizenry and justice for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, particularly women.
This special edition attends to the aforementioned realizations across all social spheres, nationally and globally, relative to the criminal legal system. It is composed of six articles that diversely and discursively foregrounds BIWOC’s all-too-often invisible experiences—which this issue directly and indirectly includes, but is not limited to Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian, and trans women of color. We expertly account for them reflexively, intellectually, globally, and humanitarianly. We also do this qualitatively, investigating the often punitive ways we are wholly impacted by our intersecting political identities, and understanding: “where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them, share them, and examine them in their pertinence to our lives” (Lorde, 1984, p. 43).
Legal disenfranchisement and accomplishment are then bookends for this special issue. Efforts toward this collaborative edition commenced just hours ahead of news that the City of Louisville had agreed to a $12 million settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor (Morales et al., 2020). To date, no officers have been held accountable for murdering Taylor—an innocent Black woman gunned down by police while sleeping in her home. Contrastingly, this work concludes after America’s election of the first Black woman Kamala Harris to the United States Vice Presidency—who is also of South Asian, Jamaican American descent. It is also timely and worth noting that, historically and similarly, the completion of this edition is occurring on the heels of the first Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Both women—as Vice President and Supreme Court Justice—occupy two of the highest offices of the free world, with a full range of unparalleled legal expertise and experiences. Similarly, this collective work reveals us too, as not just subject to intersectional inequalities but transformatively leading and steering towards intersectional equity and parity, as it relates to criminal justice and criminology particularly and society broadly.
This issue is Afrocentric in that it is rooted in Black collectivism, resistance, and empowerment rather than passivity and deficit ideologies. We are intentional and unapologetically deliberate about invoking our right to critically highlight and analyze our own plights. This is while acknowledging the following: (1) BIWOC, as an acronym or spelled out, does not fully locate or articulate all intersecting political identities or preferences for labeling us; (2) Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian, and trans women of color broadly are not monolithic or always individually articulated but are considered, as significant to the broader collective, intersectional experience; and (3) this special issue does not offer all-things-intersectional solutions that will completely end race and gender marginalization. This work is ongoing and part of a Black feminist collective in advancing social awareness and evidence-based change.
We Black women criminologists and social science experts empirically scrutinize public safety. Relying on conflict theory and critical perspectives like Black feminism (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1991) and Black feminist criminology (Potter, 2013), we examine our experiences and interactions relative to a legal system rooted in racism, sexism, classism, and capitalism. Since African enslavement had been institutionalized in this nation and others as endemic and synonymous to Blackness, economic exploitation, and state-sanctioned violence, likewise, this issue critically unpacks BIWOC’s policing and carceral experiences within the context of the industrial prison complex. Law enforcement agencies and correctional institutions have and continue to operate as extensions of enslavement, exorbitantly tied to political economies, government agendas, and the capitulation and treatment of Blackness and Black people as if deviant, criminal, or really “the repository for the American fear of crime” (Russell, 1998, XIII).
This special issue affords articles that allow for more succinct, critical thought in this regard, and under the pretense of “public safety,” as follows. Dr. Talisa Carter’s accounting of colorism and its impactful role for aspiring practitioners is indicative of ongoing racial construction based on skin complexion. Dr. Cassandra Gonzalez examines weaponized racist and sexist stereotypes about Black women and their impact on BIWOC survivors of sex trafficking. Ashley Hollingshead critically analyzes the power of controlling images about Black women and how it shapes media depictions of victimhood when Black women have been killed by law enforcement. Dr. Geniece Mondé presents narratives of “unfreedom” from criminalized BIWOC in reentry and explores how they resist a marginal status imposed upon them. Dr. Melissa Noel and Cherrell Green’s article explores how young adults have remained resilient through their parent’s incarceration—a shift from the typical damage-centered research (Tuck & Yang, 2014) about parental incarceration. The concluding article by Dr. Brittany Battle examines abolition theory and praxis, highlighting the promise of abolition and exploring abolition work in practice.
Before we provide detailed summaries for each of these six research articles along with their practical implications, let us first turn our attention to brief overviews of the policing and carceral oppression of BIWOC. Both are prominent themes throughout this special issue that directly and indirectly reveal how race, gender, and mechanisms of informal and formal social control, diversely and interactively, impact the lives of BIWOC. They are also areas of expertise for the Black feminist criminologist co-editors for this special edition.
When exploring the impacts of discrimination, there is a need to examine inequities through an intersectional approach given that multiple, overlapping identities (i.e., gender, race, sexual orientation) can influence a person’s social reality (Crenshaw, 1991). When examining the experiences of BIWOC in carceral systems, evidence suggests gross racial and gendered stereotypes have created societal perceptions that BIWOC are a collective social problem requiring state surveillance, discipline, and control rather than equity, protection, and care (Crenshaw et al., 2015). As a state-sanctioned institution, the police play a pivotal role in reinforcing these stereotypes of BIWOC and perpetuating our continued oppression and marginalization.
Police are the gatekeepers into the criminal legal system as they are generally the first point of contact and officers have some discretion in who is policed, who may be given an informal warning, and who receives formal processing into the system. For instance, racial biases and discriminatory practices within law enforcement lead to the targeting of persons within racialized communities (Ritchie, 2017; Samuels-Wortley, 2021). Combined with race-based disparities within micro- and macro-level social forces and systems, there are also gender-based disparities that expose marginalized women and girls to disproportionate policing at the intersection of race and gender. To illustrate, girls primarily enter the juvenile justice system due to charges for status offenses (i.e., truancy, running away, underage drinking, curfew violations, etc.), but Black girls are more likely than white girls to be detained by the police (Nanda, 2012). Then, Black girls are often adjudicated for these minor status offenses, despite growing evidence that suggest Black girls are vulnerable to mental health battles, sexual victimization, poverty, and family instability. Thus, we see that from a young age, Black girls are not viewed as survivors of their circumstances and are not afforded the same protections given to white girls, but instead are treated as criminogenic and are disproportionately exposed to carceral control (see Kajstura, 2019).
This over-policing of racialized communities and the heightened criticism of BIWOC both contribute to our hyper-surveillance under coercive state control (Ritchie, 2017). Stereotypes that are often associated with women of color, particularly Black women, include egregious perceptions that we are rude, aggressive, violent, angry, and ultimately require hyper-surveillance. It is these stereotypes that, in effect, lead to the excessive policing we experience as BIWOC as well as our traumatic experiences with police violence (Ritchie, 2017). Even though the physical, sexual, and psychological harm to BIWOC at the hands of law enforcement have been raised by BIWOC for decades, recent calls to #SayHerName have finally drawn public attention to police brutality at the intersection of race and gender (Battle, 2016; Crenshaw et al., 2015).
Once in the gaze of state-sanctioned institutions, BIWOC are also most likely to be apprehended for non-violent drug or minor property offenses (Sickmund et al., 2019). But there is little to no discussion that acknowledges for most BIWOC, the use of drugs or involvement in the drug trade may be a symptom of poverty and a response to numerous forms of vulnerabilities including domestic violence, sexual abuse, addictions, mental health, and housing insecurities (Nanda, 2012). Black women, in particular, are employed and educated similarly to white counterparts (US Department of Education, 2020), yet Black women are more likely to live in low-income housing and poverty-stricken areas that are traditionally over-policed (Maynard 2017; Turcotte, 2020). Thus, both researchers and legal theorists argue structural barriers that impact both our livelihood and our traumas are then criminalized by the State, rather than addressed by the State, which further deepens our marginalization in society and our criminalization under the carceral state (Nanda, 2012; Samuels-Wortley, 2021).
Such hyper-surveillance and disproportionate criminalization of BIWOC affect our incarceration rates and have influenced our overrepresentation in prisons and jails (Bush-Baskette, 2010). More specifically, in the U.S., Indigenous and Black women and girls incarceration rates are 4 and 3 times higher, respectively, than our white counterparts (Puzzanchera et al., 2020). In fact, Black women are overrepresented in U.S. women’s correctional facilities, representing only 13% of the country’s women population but representing approximately 30% of the country’s incarcerated women (Harrison & Beck, 2016; Hinton et al., 2018; Kajstura, 2019). Similarly, in Canada, Indigenous and Black women in particular are the fastest growing segment of the country’s incarcerated population (Maynard, 2017; Office of Correctional Investigator, 2020; Samuels-Wortley, 2019). Canadian data demonstrates that Indigenous women and Black women represent 48% and 9% of Canada’s incarcerated women population, yet only represent 4% and 3% of the Canadian women population, respectively. Thus, the incarceration rate for Indigenous women is 12 times higher than their presence in the general women population, while the incarceration rate of Black women is 3 times higher (Office of the Correctional Investigator, 2020). This demonstrates that the discriminatory policing and disproportionate criminalization of BIWOC transcends borders, suggesting that the carceral oppression of BIWOC is a global matter that deserves attention.
Exposure to carceral systems have deleterious and enduring effects on system-involved BIWOC. Feminist scholars have highlighted the unique pains of imprisonment experienced by incarcerated women, including coercive behaviors that perpetuate victimization (Pogrebin & Dodge, 2001; Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 2006) and environmental conditions that allow for revictimization and traumatization (Dirks, 2004). These experiences contribute to feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, isolation, depression, and other mental health consequences (Moloney et al., 2009; Pogrebin & Dodge, 2001). Moreover, correctional institutions often lack the resources to effectively respond to women’s victimization experiences that contribute to their involvement in crime. Instead, organizational policies prioritize institutional “security,” subsequently encouraging staff behaviors that are reminiscent of abuse experiences (Dirks, 2004; Pogrebin & Dodge, 2001).
These negative experiences are not limited to women’s incarcerations in jails or prisons. BIWOC often face difficulties when transitioning from behind bars and into the community. Employment barriers against the formerly incarcerated, racially marginalized, and women significantly reduces the occupational opportunities for BIWOC navigating oppressive systems. Having stable housing can be a stabilizing force as BIWOC are released from incarceration and reenter society, potentially easing efforts to search for employment and serving as a protective factor from negative influences in the community. Yet, BIWOC may encounter various barriers obtaining stable housing given the limited housing options for formerly incarcerated individuals as well as the racialized and gendered stereotypes landlords may have about who is considered the best or most problematic tenants (Quets et al., 2016). Moreover, as incarceration inherently limits the ability to maintain social ties and build social networks, recently released women may be unable to rely on traditional pathways to mediate these circumstances. Given that familial and community support are integral to reintegration (Bui & Morash, 2010), BIWOC may adopt unique coping mechanisms and identity scripts to navigate the systemic barriers associated with post-incarceration circumstances.
Notably, trauma caused by carceral systems is not limited to those subjected to state surveillance, but carceral trauma extends to the communities, families, and children of system-involved BIWOC. The collateral consequences of those involved in carceral systems have garnered significant public and research attention, with scholars emphasizing the outsized impact of parental incarceration on children (Dallaire, 2007; Lee et al., 2013; Miller, 2006; Muftic´ et al., 2016). Evidence suggests that parental incarceration can have negative physical and mental health, educational, and developmental outcomes for children (Geller et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2013; Miller, 2006), which may be exacerbated by limited community resources available to children of BIWOC. Taken together, carceral systems perpetuate negative consequences for those formally involved as criminalized “offenders” and also informally involved through the impact of “secondary prisonization” on family and community members (Comfort, 2008; Wakefield & Garcia-Hallett, 2017).
The oppressive nature of the carceral system extends beyond BIWOC under state custody and may also marginalize BIWOC working within carceral systems. BIWOC may perceive themselves as buffers between the oppressive nature of the system and the experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women. Although heralded as a remedy for discrimination and an attempt to increase legitimacy and fairness, increased diversity among police officers and correctional staff may not always achieve the intended outcome. For instance, BIWOC employed in police departments and within correctional facilities may experience state violence and vicarious traumas as an occupational hazard of their work environment (Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001). Likewise, even when BIWOC are motivated to change the criminal legal system “from the inside” of police departments and correctional institutions, BIWOC may find themselves perpetuating state surveillance and the penal control of marginalized groups while still battling with their own systemic oppression at the intersection of race and gender (Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001).
Given what we know regarding these intersectional experiences under a carceral state, the anti-carceral feminist movement has emphasized the importance of abandoning the carceral logics of state violence and providing community-based and community-driven support outside of carceral spaces (Carlton & Russell, 2018; Kim, 2018). Instead of devoting resources to Black and brown communities, government resources have been funneled into law enforcement agencies and correctional institutions that continue to dehumanize Black and brown bodies and to use deadly and excessive force against us (Ritchie, 2017). As such, recent police killings of BIWOC have spurred public interest and increased public attention towards transformative efforts to dismantle the carceral state and abolish the police and correctional institutions.
This special issue on “Reclaiming Our Stories” foregrounds BIWOC’s invisible experiences and pays critical attention to systemic forces that impact us, by sharing the research of BIWOC scholars as well-positioned researchers who unpack intersectional experiences under the carceral state. The following six manuscripts center BIWOC narratives as survivors, as criminalized women, as students hoping to work within the criminal legal system, and also as activists working to abolish the police and correctional institutions.
The first article in this special issue series is by Dr. Talisa Carter who explores race, skin tone, and students’ motivations to work as practitioners within the criminal legal system. Although research primarily examines the role of race and ethnicity in career motivations, Dr. Carter considers the diversity in skin tone and highlights skin tone as an influential factor in our decision-making processes. Dr. Carter relies on self-determination theory about how human motivation is developed and how motivations shape individuals’ actions, using this theoretical framework to qualitatively explore the role of skin tone in students’ career motivations. Part of a larger project examining self-reported skin tones and students’ occupational aspirations, the article is based on 100 interviews with undergraduate and graduate students across the United States majoring in fields related to criminal justice and criminology. The results indicate that light-skinned students were primarily motivated to work in the criminal legal system for self-fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy. No dark-skinned students were motivated by external factors (like career progress); instead, they were motivated to work in the criminal justice field by mentors, traumatic experiences, and hopes of making an impact. Overall, Dr. Carter’s findings demonstrate that diversity in skin tone is associated with nuances in intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to work in the criminal legal system—what she refers to as the “varying shades of motivation.” Dr. Carter concludes her article with policy implications to improve inclusivity in carceral institutions, practical implications to enhance student retention in educational institutions, as well as research implications to further compare intrinsic motivations and extrinsic motivations to enter careers within and peripheral to the criminal legal system.
The next article by Dr. Cassandra Gonzalez examines weaponized racist and sexist stereotypes about Black women and highlights the impact of these faulty perceptions for BIWOC survivors of sex trafficking. Using an intersectional framework, Dr. Gonzalez describes controlling narratives that present Black women and girls as hypersexual beings, both undervaluing us and exposing us to be preyed upon through the interpersonal violence of sexual exploitation. Using interview narratives from 13 Black women survivors of sex trafficking, this article demonstrates how these survivors continue to be re-traumatized by misogyny and subjected to state violence in courtrooms when their victimization is disregarded and, instead, they are criminalized and labeled as offenders for prostitution. Dr. Gonzalez argues that BIWOC survivors of sex trafficking are not only silenced by the general public, but their victimization continues to be neglected within our criminal legal system that primarily sees them as “offenders” to be held captive in lieu of “victims” who were exploited and held in captivity. The article concludes with suggestions for future research that qualitatively explores the intersectional experiences of BIWOC survivors of sex trafficking. In addition, the article provides practical implications for social practitioners and agents of the criminal legal system in how they communicate with survivors and how they treat survivors, doing so with more knowledge about the historical physical and sexual exploitation of BIWOC that continues to exist when exposed to carceral systems.
In the third article in this series, Ashley Hollingshead examines media discussions of police killings of Black women and men, critically analyzing the power of controlling images of Black women and how this shapes depictions of victimhood. BIWOC are largely invisible in discussions about oppressive policing—discussions that mainly focus on Black men and blurs the visibility of Black women as targets and victims of police violence. Despite Black women’s relative invisibility in media discussions, Hollingshead conducted a content analysis of 76 newspaper articles about the fatalities of 24 Black women and men killed by police officers in 2016. The content analysis examined newspaper narratives within the initial primary reporting about the fatality, the deceased, and the officer(s) involved as well as the later secondary reporting that includes additional details and statements from third parties. In her analysis, Hollingshead compared how the fatalities of Black women and men are framed at the intersection of race and gender. Newspaper narratives depict Black criminality as the central focus in primary reporting of policing killings of Black women and men, highlighting information that presents them as a perceived threat and seemingly justifying police use of fatal force. Within secondary reporting, however, Hollingshead found that additional statements from third parties presented nuanced narratives about the victimhood of Black men and women. More specifically, the inclusion of family, police, and community responses present the fatalities of Black men as a result of systemic failures (like excessive use of force) while family responses to the fatalities of Black women emphasize their domestication as loving, caring, mother figures to combat initial depictions of their Black criminality, disconnecting Black women’s death from state-enacted violence (as attributed to Black men). Hollingshead concludes the article by discussing the practical implications of such unequal representations for reform efforts, noting that newspapers should validate Black women’s victimhood and researchers should acknowledge and explore Black women’s positionality within the context of systemic failures.
The next article by Dr. Geniece Mondé presents narratives from criminalized BIWOC in reentry. Dr. Mondé’s recent work is a part of growing criminological research that centers the voices of formerly incarcerated BIWOC navigating carceral systems at the intersection of race, gender, and motherhood (see Garcia-Hallett, 2019; Gurusami, 2019). This article is framed around the concept of “unfreedom” as the result of structural-level power dynamics and oppression that push formerly incarcerated Black mothers into the “margins of justice.” Stemming from a larger qualitative project about formerly incarcerated mothers, this article is based on interviews with 37 formerly incarcerated Black mothers and explores the mothers’ narratives about various sites of marginality and how they resist a marginal status. Overall, the findings demonstrate that the Black mothers challenged their marginalized status by redefining motherhood and criticizing post-incarceration programs for underscoring carcerality and perpetuating “unfreedom” in lieu of adequately advocating for them during their reentry, as programs claimed. The article concludes with suggestions for further research that qualitatively examines the impact of intersecting sites of oppression on the “unfreedom” experienced by system-involved Black women and mothers. Given that the Black mothers in her study were involved in post-incarceration programs, Dr. Mondé highlights the benefits of future research that comparatively examines their narratives of systemic “unfreedom” and their forms of resistance during and after program participation. Consistent with the special issue’s focus on “Reclaiming Our Stories,” Dr. Mondé powerfully argues that researchers should refrain from language about “giving voice” to Black women, highlighting that we already have a voice, and researchers should instead focus on “centering” the voices of Black women.
Not only have BIWOC been criminalized, stigmatized, and further oppressed by society after incarceration, but researchers have deemed their children disproportionately at risk of criminalization as well (Dallaire, 2007; Muftic´ et al., 2016). Dr. Melissa Noel and Cherrell Green’s article is the fifth in this special issue, and it is grounded in combating the focus on negative outcomes for children of parental incarceration to, instead, explore how young adults have coped through their parent’s incarceration and remained resilient against the hurdles stacked against them. To accomplish this, their analysis is based on 11 interviews from a larger study with Black and Latina young women (18-30 years old) who experienced parental incarceration before their 18th birthday. Noel and Green qualitatively explore how BIWOC were able to mitigate negative outcomes from parental incarceration by understanding things from their parents’ positionality, by engaging in multiple tasks to keep their minds busy and adopt a “Strong Black Women” schema, by taking advantage of support groups and mental health services, and by constructing a prosocial identity for themselves that challenged negative stereotypes about them and their futures. Though research on parental incarceration primarily focuses on its impact on childhood, Noel and Green argue that researchers should consider these children’s experiences into emerging adulthood and should avoid damage-centered research (Tuck & Yang, 2014) that is deficit-based, and instead promote a strength-based orientation that advances practical support.
Dr. Brittany Battle’s article concluding this special issue examines abolition theory and praxis, encapsulating the importance and promise in abolishing the police and correctional facilities as well as exploring abolition work in practice. She explains how the criminal legal system is embedded in carceral logics that criminalize people of color and white surpremacist violence towards people of color. As such, Dr. Battle explores the influence of Black radical feminist ethos in the social movement to transform the criminal legal system and create a reimagined future. In order to understand and highlight the revolutionary visions and experiences of activists working to abolish the police and prisons, this article is based on 55 pilot interviews with Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and multi-racial women and non-binary organizers in the 2020 uprisings. The findings demonstrate common motivations shaping activists’ participation in abolition work such as personal or collective trauma at the intersection of marginalized identities, generational activism within the family unit, and sensing a moral responsibility to be activists. Their narratives also discussed critiques of the carceral state, emphasizing the disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of people of color, the dehumanization of incarcerated individuals, and the need to dismantle a criminal legal system that is beyond repair. In lieu of the criminal legal system that is grounded on carceral logics of retribution and oppression, the activists advocated for a complete transformation of safety and justice (or expressed a detachment from “justice”) that was grounded in Black feminist ethos of love, liberation, and community. Dr. Battle concludes her article with suggestions for grassroots groups to lean into the recent awareness of abolitionism, for activists to maintain a steady commitment to the movement, and for academics to listen to those actually impacted by the carceral state and to work with activists who are doing the work of pushing for “reimagined conceptualizations of safety and justice.”
In sum, this special issue “Reclaiming Our Stories” not only centers the voices of BIWOC engaged with carceral systems, but also showcases our presence as experts in this area. As such, this issue adheres to the saying “Nothing About Us, Without Us” as a mantra that highlights our collective value as BIWOC community experts and social scientists (Hayes et al., 2021).
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Boyles, A. S. (2020). Racial-spatial politics: Policing Black citizens in white spaces and a 21st-century uprising. American Ethnologist, 47(2), 150–154.
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Dr. Janet Garcia-Hallett is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice in the University of New Haven. Her research is primarily focused on the detrimental impact of incarceration on communities of color and the obstacles women of color face before, during, and after incarceration. She has published in the British Journal of Criminology, Feminist Criminology, The Prison Journal, and the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Her book, Invisible Mothers: Unseen Yet Hypervisible after Incarceration, comes out this October 2022. Her book explores how mothers of color navigate motherhood post-incarceration, and how their reentry into the community is shaped by mothers’ treatment and experiences at the intersection of gender, motherhood, racial-ethnic background, and criminal record.
Dr. Kanika Samuels-Wortley is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Samuels-Wortley's research explores the intersection of systemic racism, technology, and the criminal justice system. Current studies examine the role racial bias may play in the use of predictive policing technologies. Recent publications can be found in Crime & Delinquency, Race and Justice, and the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Dr. Tri Keah S. Henry is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University – Bloomington. Her research examines the effects of extralegal factors on discretionary decision-making during case processing. Specifically, her work highlights procedural processes in policing and distributive outcomes in sentencing, giving special attention to the influence of race and gender in these contexts. Her work has appeared in Crime & Delinquency, Criminal Justice Policy Review, American Journal of Criminal Justice, Violence Against Women, and Feminist Criminology.
Dr. Andrea S. Boyles is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Tulane University. She is also an award-winning author of books, You Can’t Stop the Revolution: Community Disorder and Social Ties in Post-Ferguson America and Race, Place, and Suburban Policing: Too Close for Comfort. Her scholarship cover a broad range of topics including but not limited to Black citizen-police conflict; Black feminism and intersectionality; neighborhood disadvantage, disorder, and crime; collective action, and more.