Please join us for a colloquium being given by Armando Lara-Millán, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Administrative Disappearing: The Transformation of American Jails and Hospitals in the Age of Routine Austerity and Progressive Law
We are currently experiencing a tremendous change in our criminal justice and public welfare systems. A variety of criminal justice contact points are increasingly being used to administer social services to the poor, while traditional health and welfare systems are increasingly making use of crime control techniques to limit eligibility. Ground-zero of this transformation are the Los Angeles County public hospital and jail systems, formerly the largest in the world. The talk combines two granular pieces of evidence: ethnographic observation of the processing of inmates and patients with a historical analysis of three-decade long administrative archival record – thousands of memos, research reports, meeting minutes, policy briefs – of high-level Los Angeles County decision-makers. The central argument is that, counter-intuitively, these trends are the product of the equally constraining forces of “routine austerity” and “progressive law.” Contemporary urban governments have the unique position of continuously managing catastrophic budget cuts, but also a policy and legal environment in which they are at least ostensibly held accountable to the laws of the land, procedural rules, court rulings, watch-dog groups, and minimum service requirements. It is in these moments of tension that public officials engage in what I call “administrative disappearing” or begin to expand the types of interventions that caseloads are thought to require and attempt to get other state agencies to pay for those new types of interventions. These fights over revenue generating caseloads drives innovation and projects an illusion that legal requirements have been fulfilled, when, in fact, such persons have simply been shifted to other sectors of the state or not serviced at all.