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The Holding Room: Care, Custody, And Control In A Prison School

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Abstract

This dissertation examines education programming in a men's maximumsecurity prison in rural Central New York. The provision of formal schooling has been a hallmark of prison reform efforts in New York for over a century, imagined to both ameliorate the conditions of confinement and, upon release, restore inmates to full civic participation and social membership. In documenting the everyday work of teaching and learning in one such school, this dissertation demonstrates that, rather than representing a formal break with punitive logics and practices, such reform efforts are instrumentalized and assimilated into the custodial management of the institution. For both staff and inmates, navigating the dissonances and incoherencies that emerge as "care" is integrated into "custody" is a defining feature of institutional life that conditions both the structural possibilities and particular socialities that emerge within reform-oriented programs in prison. In tracing structures of care (diagnostic and standardized testing) in the school as they intersect with disciplinary structures of custody (solitary confinement), this research demonstrates that inmates' academic achievement is significantly attenuated by institutional conditions. These institutional conditions are both produced by and reflected in the "security mindset," which affects particular forms of sociality in the school. In managing personal and emotional proximities, this "mindset" remakes a "caring" profession in the image of custodial relations of authority and in the interest of control. This "mindset" is instantiated in the documentary practices of the school,   where staff not only track inmates' academic progress, but contribute to the record of punishment. In considering staff and inmates' deep ambivalences about the lived experience of prison reform, this dissertation provides an ethnographically rich account of a pervasive modern institution that is seldom frequented by social researchers. It suggests that processes of carceral subject-making are neither coherent, nor uncontested, but mediated by extensive self-reflexive and intersubjective critique and negotiation. Given the influence of the prison as a historical formation on anthropological investigations of modern power/knowledge, this dissertation demonstrates that the contemporary prison itself is a key analytical site for understanding the empirical realities, as much as theoretical implications, of the current era of hyperincarceration.

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2015-01-26

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education; prison; New York

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Santiago-Irizarry, Vilma

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Gleach, Frederic Wright
Lieberwitz, Risa L
Schechter, James Alan

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Anthropology

Degree Name

Ph. D., Anthropology

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document

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dissertation or thesis

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