Sarah Cate

Ph.D. Student in American Politics and Comparative Politics

Dissertation Title: The Politics of Prison Reform: Juvenile Justice Policy in Texas, California and Pennsylvania

Committee: Marie Gottschalk (Chair), Adolph Reed, Rogers Smith

Summary: My dissertation, The Politics of Prison Reform: Juvenile Justice Policy in Texas,California and Pennsylvania, explores how efforts to reduce incarceration in the criminaljustice system can actually end up increasing punishment of offenders. While the rhetoricof criminal justice reform from both the left and the right promotes decarceration, thereality is one of expanding punishment. I focus in particular on the case of juvenilejustice. Advocates have successfully pushed for policies to reduce the number ofjuveniles sent to state-run institutions. I argue, however, that while fewer individuals aresent to state-level prisons, more are being sent to locally run prisons, including privateprisons. So rather than fundamentally changing the system, these reforms have simplyshifted the way in which juveniles are imprisoned in America. I argue that these reformscontribute to a larger pattern of American social policy development toward devolution,privatization and an emphasis on individual responsibilities rather than the transformationof structural impediments to individuals.

Using historical comparative case study method to explore juvenile justice policydevelopment over time in Texas, California and Pennsylvania, my research makes threekey contributions to the broader literature on American politics and criminal justicepolicy. First, I argue that devolution processes in the criminal justice system, such asshifting control from the state to county level, reconfigure the justice system rather thanretract its reach. Second, I provide a grounded account of the ways in which “communitybasedalternatives” are increasingly privatized and often emphasize self-help andindividual accountability. Rather than challenge mass incarceration, these policiesreplicate the punitive conditions of life on the inside even as they extend beyond theprison walls. Third, I show how these developments contribute to reifying a post-NewDeal governance structure where the responsibility of the state has shifted from providingbasic public services to subsidizing the private sector.

University of Pennsylvania
208 S. 37th Street, Room 217
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Anne Norton Chair
Matthew Levendusky Graduate Chair
Marc Meredith Undergraduate Chair