Abstract: Role of Community Based Organizations in Countering Carceral Logics (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Role of Community Based Organizations in Countering Carceral Logics

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Aditi Das, PhD, Post Doctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Theresa Anasti, PhD, Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Rochester, MI
Rachel Wells, MSW, MUP, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Community based organizations (CBOs) seek to represent the interests of local communities they serve and are often instrumental in catalyzing social change by inspiring action amongst other actors (Marwell, 2007). Drawing on the institutional logics (Friedland & Alford, 1991; Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012) and institutional entrepreneurship literatures (DiMaggio, 1988; Eisenstadt, 1980; Fligstein, 1997), this paper seeks to better understand how CBOs can serve as critical actors that counteract carceral logics across three social welfare fields: juvenile justice, sex work, and poverty policy. Carceral logics, which include a over reliance on the criminal justice system and punishment to solve social problems, disproportionately affect black and brown communities and inhabit many areas of our everyday life, such as schools and human service nonprofits (Alexander, 2012; Schept, 2015). Our study poses two research questions, 1) How do CBO institutional entrepreneurs advocate alternative logics that seek to counter carceral approaches? 2) What are the mechanisms they use to target different organizations and institutions in fields where there is a distinct power imbalance?

Methods: This paper employs a qualitative comparative case study approach (Yin, 1994, 2003) seeking to build evidence by comparing cases with similar features: that is, CBOs engaged in countering carceral logics within their respective institutional fields: juvenile justice, sex work, and poverty politics. Within these three cases, we use qualitative methods namely interviews, interviews, document review and participant observation to better understand how and why these CBOs seek to counter carceral logics.

Results: Cross-case comparisons across three cases, showcase strategies and opportunities that each CBO uses, mechanisms for promoting alternative logics, and ways in which CBOs engage with other actors in their field. In the first case, the dominant juvenile justice punitive logic within public schools is being challenged by a coalition of CBOs who employ discursive strategies and utilize scarce resources to influence policy actors to embrace restorative justice reform, a community-centered alternative.In the second case of sex work politics, a hybrid service-advocacy CBO seeks to counter the “end demand” (criminalization of buyers of sexual services) approach to sex work through influencing service providers to decriminalize sex work and adopt a harm reduction approach. In the third case, a housing/human rights CBO seeks to challenge approaches and narratives that criminalize unhoused community members and low-income tenants, so through organizing, they promote a human rights framework.

Conclusions & Implications: Comparing across three cases that are positioned in different social welfare fields, we examine the different mechanisms for promoting alternative logics, key strategies and opportunities that organizations use, and the ways in which these CBOs engage with other actors in their field. Through identifying key ways that these CBOs are able to advance alternative logics, and difficulties that may limit their impact, our paper strives to increase our understanding of how CBOs can challenge carceral logics and offer alternative strategies. The paper increases our theoretical understanding of institutional logics and institutional entrepreneurship through an exploration of the work that CBOs use to challenge oppressive carceral systems in power-imbalanced fields.