In my dissertation titled, Beyond the Prison Walls: A Du Boisian Analysis of Ex-Offender Reentry in the Age of Mass Incarceration, I argue that reentry is an important public policy issue that fails to address America’s race problem. I also argue that the study of racialized subjects is not a neutral activity, and that how we study reentry should be just as important to public policy analysis as what is being studied. Moreover, I contend that the policies that shape, inform, and extend the prison walls, through reentry, permanently disable individuals and destabilize whole communities where large numbers of individuals labeled “ex-offenders” are concentrated, and that current efforts to reform the system fail to address the problem and may even exacerbate it.
Drawing upon the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, I explore epistemological issues associated with the study of dehumanized individuals in academic research by focusing on the methodological preference for quantitative analyses in public policy. I argue that the “methodological fetishism” that privileges quantitative analysis is deficient because it strives for objectivity and is ahistorical. I do not dispute the importance of quantitative data in public policy research, but rather suggest that racialized problems, such as mass incarceration and reentry, cannot be fully understood absent a historically grounded (qualitative) analysis. Therefore, the methodological approach used in this study relies on quantitative data to numerically illustrate the problem of reentry, while developing a more nuanced understanding of what is likely to be the defining public policy issue of the twenty first century.
The Du Boisian framework used in this study helps to elucidate the link between reentry and mass incarceration as outcomes of conscious public policy choices that are historically rooted in early forms of racism in the United States. The historical analysis of public policy begins with the post-Civil War era and ends in 2010, at the close of President, Barack Obama’s first term in office.
In addition, the study considers the institutional arrangement between for-profit prisons and the state, before addressing four broad areas of reentry including, employment, education, housing, and healthcare. This dissertation uses critiques of the reentry industry in general, and reintroduces the question posed by John Ducksworth, when does reentry end, in order to illustrate that reentry represents less of an end point and more of a continuation of incarceration albeit in the form of community policing, increased militarization, surveillance, and a range of mechanisms disguised as positive solutions to mass incarceration.
The analysis of communities as physical and theoretical sites from which individuals are removed from and returned to through reentry are examined through theories of human geography, before examining mainstream responses to reentry in Maryland and Pennsylvania. This dissertation considers examples of community organizing that stand outside of the mainstream and accepted models, but that nonetheless have been historically significant to communities in terms of self-empowerment and self-determination, political organizing, addressing issues of police brutality, and providing localized solutions to a broad range of issues faced by communities. I argue that these examples provide us with frameworks for reimagining communities that are impacted by reentry. I also offer suggestions for future research.