Transforming Correctional Landscapes
In a moment when the legitimacy of institutions that respond to crime is being challenged in new ways, there is also a growing interest in the use of ecological sustainability and environmental justice initiatives as a possible intervention in this context. These initiatives take many social and spatial forms across correctional landscapes, from prisons, jails, and youth detention centers to communities impacted by incarceration. Across three articles, this dissertation critically examines some of the contexts, limits, and possibilities of ecological sustainability initiatives as a means to transform correctional landscapes. Considering that ecological sustainability programs can involve some form of work done by incarcerated people, the first article explores the social-historical context of prison labor. It reviews the contested development of theories about prison labor among scholars, reformers, and activists. The article examines how the role of prison labor has been imagined in society, from punitive and rehabilitative theories to the more recent restorative and abolitionist or transformative ones. Contested theories of prison labor across time and space suggest that although work programs have often been exploitative, there are pathways, within and outside of the present system, towards forms of labor that might better contribute to crime prevention and public safety. The second article looks at some current efforts to intervene in correctional landscapes through the lens of environmental justice and ecological sustainability programs in the Northeastern United States. It explores these efforts through surveys, workshops and experiences of practitioners who have been trying to implement green interventions in correctional landscapes over the last ten years. The article denaturalizes the commonsense assumption in sustainability discourses that green interventions are necessarily good for individuals and institutions, and instead looks to the social contexts within which practitioners aim to implement interventions towards the possibilities of transformation. Overall, the article shows how some educators and activists have sought to seed transformative possibilities from within the constraints of existing theories and practices of correctional rehabilitation, as they work to design and implement specific program protocols, practices, curricula, networks, and collaborations. Finally, the third article turns to a case study of the emerging role of social cooperatives in Italy, as a crime response and prevention strategy that promotes social inclusion. It situates the model of Italian Social Cooperative movement in the context of W.E.B. Du Bois’s coopertivist thought and the emerging field of design for transitions. It looks at specific Italian laws, policies, and organizations that relate to the transformation of correctional landscapes and have possible applications to U.S. context. The Italian case, which emphasizes the role of ecological sustainability and cooperative practices in the context of incarceration, is used to better understand how future interventions might become pathways to decarceration, environmental justice, and sustainable communities.