Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Parole As State Legal Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

(WITHDRAWN) Parole As State Legal Violence

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jesse Self, AM, PhD Candidate, PhD Candidate, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background & Purpose:
Transubstantive research across the carceral and immigration systems examines how the state uses legal statuses—such as parole or noncitizen immigration statuses—as mechanisms for stratification that produce racial/ethnic disparities. Most of what we know about the experiences of those living in these states of liminal legality comes from immigration literature. This scholarship emphasized the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that tenuous legal statuses have on individuals and their families and provides a framework for understanding precarious statuses as state “legal violence,” characterized by blocked social mobility, persistent fear of removal from society, instability, confusion, and self-blame. Despite theoretical work extending liminal legality and legal violence frameworks beyond the immigration system to carceral statuses such as parole, these frameworks have yet to be used in empirical reentry research.
This study, situated in transubstantive scholarship, provides the first empirical study demonstrating the applicability of using liminal legality and state legal violence frames to understand the experiences of parolees. Most parole research primarily focuses on recidivism and is heavily influenced by the field of criminal psychology, often emphasizing individual characteristics and criminogenic risk factors. This study, by contrast, flips the culpability lens away from individual behaviors and criminogenic tendencies and focuses on the state as a perpetrator of legal violence against returning citizens and their families.
I draw on semi-structured interviews with 60 parolees in Illinois and Kentucky and 20 family members who provide home placements and support for parolees to explore spillover effects of liminal legality on families.  The average duration of these interviews is 1.5 hours. Interviews with parolees in both states were focused on 1) parole status restrictions, 2) explicit and implicit threats of reincarceration, and 3) experiences navigating various domains in their life—work, school, family, and social life—while complying with conditions of parole. To capture the nature of parolee/parole agent interactions, I also draw on 6 months of weekly observations taken at the lobby of the parole central command center in Chicago, where parolees are summoned daily to report and meet with their parole agents.
Preliminary results suggest explicit and implicit threats of reincarceration are an inherent component of parole. Even those on inactive parole—parole statuses not requiring regular check ins with a parole officer—reported stress and anxiety resulting from their status. Self-blame, financial instability, and mobility restrictions that interfered with employment and education opportunities were common themes among parolees. Family members providing home placements to parolees reported sacrificing privacy and legal protections—such as submitting themselves to background checks, home searches, and were often ordered to relay implicit threats to their loved ones.
Conclusion and Implications:
These findings demonstrate support for a legal violence framework for understanding parolee experiences. This study suggests that social workers should prioritize research and policy interventions that emphasize shorter terms of supervision and early discharges from parole, especially if racial disparities in parole supervision are to be reduced. Parole has the pernicious effect of keeping entire households under the purview of correctional supervision and creating family discord when family members deliver implicit threats to their loved ones from parole authorities.