Friday, December 26, 2014

Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness' "Appealing to Justice"

Kitty Calavita is Professor Emerita of Criminology, Law and Society and of Sociology at UC Irvine. Her books include Invitation to Law and Society: An Introduction to the Study of Real Law; Immigrants at the Margins: Law, Race, and Exclusion in Southern Europe; Big Money Crime: Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Crisis; and Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS.

Valerie Jenness is Professor of Criminology, Law and Society and of Sociology at UC Irvine, where she is also Dean of the School of Social Ecology. Her books include Making Hate a Crime: From Social Movement to Law Enforcement Practice; Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence; Making It Work: The Prostitutes' Rights Movement in Perspective; and Routing the Opposition: Social Movements, Public Policy, and Democracy.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic, and reported the following:
Most of page 99 is taken up by a table that describes the characteristics of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) personnel we interviewed. Below that is the continuation of a paragraph that began on p. 98:
…almost everyone spoke positively of the legitimacy of the appeals process and prisoners’ right to file grievances. This commentary did not appear to be offered merely for the sake of political correctness, but was often voiced with, if not passion, then at least conviction. Henry Lopez, an official in the Inmate Appeals Branch (IAB), was among the most adamant: “This is a way of giving voice to people it matters to….We need to ensure they get a voice.”
Henry Lopez (pseudonym) is an inmate appeals official in the Sacramento CDCR office that provides the final level of appeal to prisoners who have gone through an administrative process to contest the conditions of their confinement--a process that is required by law before prisoners can file a federal lawsuit. Although few prisoners prevail, tens of thousands of such appeals are filed annually in California alone. Appealing to Justice is an examination of that process, and a rare look inside prison, one of the most closed and invisible institutions in American society. We gained unique access to a computer-generated random sample of approximately 500 prisoner grievances filed in California in 2005-2006, and received unprecedented permission to interview a random sample of 120 CDCR prisoners in three prisons for men, as well as 23 key CDCR personnel. What these grievances and conversations tell us about prison conditions and about the nature of disputing in such an asymmetrical context is illuminating, and sometimes shocking. Our most intriguing findings, however, relate to the multidimensional nature of prisoners’ and officials’ perceptions, which in turn speaks to the complex quality of prison as a contemporary American institution. As Henry Lopez reveals in the quote above, he strongly believes in prisoners’ right to appeal their conditions, “giving voice to people it matters to…” We were told some version of this by all the officials we interviewed. But, these same officials also (and seamlessly) spoke with hostility about prisoners who file grievances, calling them “narcissists,” “liars”, and “whiners” who are overly “entitled.” Apparent contradictions such as these appeared over and over again in our interviews with officials. Prisoners too articulated disconnects, disdaining the grievance system as a “joke” but continuing to use it, and speaking reverently about “the law” and “evidence” as valid arbitrators of truth and fairness. Such contradictions parallel almost precisely what are arguably two defining logics of our age: The emphasis on individual rights on one hand, and the culture of control on the other. We argue in Appealing to Justice that prisons sit at the fault line of these colliding logics, and surface in the contradictory narratives of both prisoners and their captors. In addition to making these empirical and theoretical points, the importance of Appealing to Justice lies in its “giving voice to people it matters to” —those who live and work in prison, and from whom we almost never hear.
Learn more about Appealing to Justice at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue