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Discipline and Devolution: Constructions of Poverty, Race, and Criminality in the Politics of Rural Prison Development

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The soaring expansion of the US prison population is transforming the geographies of both urban and rural landscapes. As the trend in mass incarceration persists, depressed rural spaces are increasingly associated with rising prison development and the increasing criminalization of rural communities of disadvantage. Drawing on in-depth archival and interview research in rural communities in the Northwestern states of Idaho and Montana, this paper explores how cultural productions of poverty and exclusion intersect with rural prison development. I examine how representations of poverty and criminality are entangled with processes of economic restructuring and the localization of economic development and social welfare. I explore the ways in which the rural prison geography of the Northwest is linked to the material and discursive construction of those in poverty and how these narratives are produced through local relations of race, ethnicity, and class. I suggest that the mobilization of these constructions legitimates rural prison expansion, increasingly punitive social and criminal justice policies, and the retrenchment of racialized and classed inequality. Further, I argue that these discursive imaginations of the poor work to obscure the central dynamics producing poverty under the neoliberal restructuring of rural economies and governance.

Keywords: crime; neoliberal restructuring; poverty; race

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2009.00681.x

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA;, Email: bondsa@uwm.edu

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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