Document Type

Article

Abstract

This Article explores the nexus of two stories central to contemporary American jurisprudence and--for tens of millions of citizens--central to the American experience: the rise of the “carceral state” through steep increases in the incarceration of non-whites, and the decline, over the very same period, in legal protections for prisoners. The Article suggests that these two stories cannot be considered in isolation from one another. Nearly everything we know about race from the social sciences suggests that, in the highly pressured context of prison life, racial tensions will play a role in the decisions that guards and administrators make concerning prisoner welfare. Social geography tells us concretely that the communities from which non-white prisoners are drawn are the ones least able to advocate for prisoner well-being. And the sociology of citizenship reveals that citizenship itself has always been deeply “raced” in America, making it doubly challenging for a largely non-white prison population to be seen as worthy of humane treatment. Yet the law is not currently equipped to acknowledge or confront the possibility that mistreatment of prisoners is systemically bound to race-based tensions and structural inequities. This is a critical gap that cannot, we argue, be remedied until the courts adopt a more realistic understanding of the workings of race in the corrections world.