Documenting Criminalization, Confinement, and Resistance

Documenting Criminalization, Confinement, and Resistance is the umbrella research initiative of the Carceral State Project (CSP). This section contains all of the CSP’s research reports and other publications organized in six thematic areas: Policing and Criminalization; Confronting Conditions of Confinement; Immigration and the Carceral State; Visual Culture and the Carceral State; Reentry and Consequences of Conviction; and Detroit as a Carceral Space. In addition, the Research Archive includes all publications starting with the most recent, and more information can be found on the pages of the CSP’s various Research Teams.

This main Publications page contains a seven-part multimedia research report series, “Documenting and Confronting the Carceral State,” created in collaboration with our community allies, that introduces the Carceral State Project’s agenda and outlines the boundaries of the carceral state in its broadest dimensions.

What Is the Carceral State?

The Documenting Criminalization and Confinement research collaboration really began with the Carceral State Project’s 2018-2019 Symposium Series (full videos and panelist information at this link). The symposium launched with What Is the Carceral State?, followed by panels on CriminalizationConfinementControlCommunity, and culminating in Beyond the Carceral State. By design, the symposium series laid the groundwork for the DCC project, identifying key research questions and highlighting the values of public engagement and campus-community collaboration. Each roundtable exclusively featured speakers from directly impacted communities and advocacy organizations, moderated by a faculty member of the Carceral State Project steering committee.

At the opening panel, “What Is the Carceral State?” (Oct. 3, 2018), Professor Ruby Tapia of the CSP steering committee laid out the agenda of the DCC project through an expansive interpretation of the scale and reach of the carceral state.

We can take for granted that the carceral state includes police, lawyers, court marshals, probation and parole officers, correctional officers, jail and prison administrators, and jails and prisons and detention centers themselves, including everyone employed and caged by them. So yes, the carceral state encompasses the formal institutions and operations and economies of the criminal justice system proper–but it also encompasses logics, ideologies, practices and structures that invest in tangible and sometimes intangible ways in punitive orientations to difference, to poverty, to struggles for social justice, and to the crossers of constructed borders of all kinds.

Like many of our national and international colleagues and collaborators have been doing for some time, we’re here to expand understandings of the reach of the carceral state and of carcerality itself, beyond widely held understandings of it as something that has only to do with mass incarceration. We want to host a range of conversations and illumine the institutional, political, cultural, and social spaces wherein punitive logics shape relations and outcomes, where the promise and threat of criminalization, and the possibility/solution of incarceration, organizes procedures, power, and populations.

So many imagine that the prison is the central locus of these dynamics, that carcerality has only to do with cages, and that action and activism against these phenomena can take only very limited forms. This makes the problem elusive in materially consequential ways and inhibits us from imagining and charting paths toward effective change. We want to explore the otherwise obscured reach of institutionalized carcerality, of the sometimes overt, often covert, promise of the prison as a substitute for humane solutions to so many social problems.

Research Report Series: “Documenting and Confronting the Carceral State”

Through this seven-part multimedia series, the Community Organizations Documenting Project team (Gabrielle French, Allie Goodman, Chloe Carlson, and Matt Lassiter) has condensed and edited the symposium video footage, provided contextual material, and integrated highlights from various panels into a thematic format. The symposium panelists featured in “Documenting and Confronting the Carceral State” are therefore collaborators and contributors to these research publications. The series starts with What Is the Carceral State? followed by reports on surveillance, education, trauma, capitalism, family and community, and alternatives to the carceral state.

Part 1, What Is the Carceral State?, provides a broad introduction to the concept of carcerality and the expansiveness and scope of the carceral state. The report includes sections on racial criminalization, common misconceptions, language, formal and hidden aspects, immigration detention, and more. “What Is the Carceral State?” includes 21 video clips from the symposium series, featuring directly impacted people and community activists, alongside charts/graphs and other contextual material. Created by the Community Organizations Team.

Part 2, Surveillance and the Carceral State, explores the criminalization and surveillance of vulnerable and marginalized communities through 20 video clips of firsthand accounts, as described by panelists in the symposium series. State surveillance begins before the formal processes of arrest and incarceration and “doesn’t stop after you get home” from prison, as one panelist observed. Topics include electronic monitoring, the sex offender registry, barriers to reentry, and much more. Created by the Community Organizations Team.

Part 3, Education and the Carceral State, documents the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate criminalization of nonwhite and poor youth, among other topics. Based on 14 video clips from the symposium series, this report also addresses educational access in correctional institutions, the barriers to equal educational opportunity for those with criminal records (including at U-M), and the nationwide shift in funding from schools to prisons and other punitive institutions. Created by the Community Organizations Team.

Part 4, Trauma and the Carceral State, documents the ways in which every aspect of the carceral state contributes to the traumatization of impacted people, and how those who already suffer from trauma are disproportionately criminalized and punished by the criminal-legal system. Based on 24 powerful video excerpts from the symposium series. Created by the Community Organizations Team.

Part 5, Capitalism and the Carceral State, documents the role of capitalist ideology, extreme economic inequality, and the criminalization of poverty in the growth of mass incarceration in modern America, showing how the carceral state simultaneously exploits and worsens these conditions. Based on 22 video excerpts and created by the Community Organizations Team.

Part 6, Family, Community, and the Carceral State, documents the many negative impacts of criminalization and incarceration on families and communities, with a particular focus on the consequences for family members and the plight of racially and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Based on 28 video excerpts and created by the Community Organizations Team.


Part 7, Alternatives to the Carceral State, completes the series by questioning why the United States relies on police and prisons, challenging the surveillance state, considering rehabilitative and international alternatives, and examining the radical abolitionist demands to dismantle rather than reform the carceral state. Based on 17 video excerpts and created by the Community Organizations Team.