The Carceral State Project is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings impacted communities and advocacy organizations together with researchers, writers, and artists from the University of Michigan to address the current crisis as well as collateral consequences of mass incarceration, policing, and immigration detention in the State of Michigan, and to work towards more just responses to the safety concerns and social needs of this region.
In 2018-19, the Carceral State Project’s symposium series became its first major initiative, bringing together faculty, students, staff, and community members for conversations on mass incarceration, policing, immigration control, and criminal justice, led by community members who are directly impacted by these issues. These conversations will establish the Project’s research, activist, and outreach agenda in the years to come.
In the fall of 2019, the Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan will launch a historic archival and research endeavor, the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement initiative. This initiative will be the first comprehensive effort ever undertaken in the United States to collect and archive the voices, writing, art, letters, and lived experiences of those in this country who have experienced criminalization, confinement, and criminal justice control. Via the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement initiative, the Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan seeks to make a dramatic impact on mass incarceration in the state of Michigan and in the United States both by preserving the record of this unprecedentedly punitive moment in history for future generations, and by generating qualitative research that will, in turn, inform the present.
Open Letter to the University of Michigan
February 12, 2019
Re: SPG 601.38: “Required Disclosure of Felony Charges and/or Felony Convictions” and Related University of Michigan Policies
We, the Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan–along with the undersigned faculty, students, and staff at the University of Michigan, as well as members of the larger community–wish to register our grave concern regarding the University’s recent implementation of a new policy, SPG 601.38.  This policy requires faculty, staff, student employees, volunteers, and visiting scholars who find themselves convicted of a felony, and even those merely charged but not convicted, to report it to the University.
The University of Michigan already requires all prospective undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, and staff employees to disclose any previous criminal record (both felonies and misdemeanors) during the admissions or employment application process, including, in some cases, information from otherwise sealed juvenile records. The University also currently requires prospective employees, including graduate students, to undergo a criminal background check conducted by a private, for-profit company to identify any felony and misdemeanors convictions or pending charges. Although the University argues that SPG 601.38 will “better promote safety and security and mitigate potential risk,” this self-disclosure mandate adds a newly punitive element to already invasive and unjust policies that cause far more harm than good. Taken together, these policies promote over-criminalization rather than public safety, reinforce the racial and economic inequalities in the criminal justice system and on our campus, and have other devastating collateral consequences.
The role of the University should be to offer education and employment rather than act as an extension of the carceral state.
The Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan and its undersigned supporters call on the University administration to rescind SPG 601.38 immediately. We also call on the University to join the ever-growing number of public and private universities, as well as public and private employers, that have repealed policies that require disclosure of criminal records and pending charges during the admissions and employment application processes and have rejected criminal background checks of employees and students, except to the extent mandated by federal and state law.
The Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan Steering Committee:
Senior Research Scholar, University of Michigan School of Law and Executive Director, Detroit Justice Center
Michigan Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Egalitarianism and the Metropolis, Department of History of Art
Professor, Department of History
Associate Professor, Residential College and Department of Theatre & Drama, Director of the Prison Creative Arts Project
Associate Professor, Departments of English Language and Literature and Women’s Studies
Heather Ann Thompson
Professor, Departments of Afroamerican and African Studies and History and the Residential College