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Lecture | December 2023

“Working the Program”: Employment and Poverty Governance in Criminal Justice Treatment for Women

Gender Equality and the Economy: Interdisciplinary Approaches
Join us for our second session with Allison McKim, Associate Professor of Sociology at Bard College, on Wednesday, December 6, from 5pm to 6pm in the Levy Conference Room, or on Zoom. Dr. McKim presentation will be followed by an open Q&A session with audience members—both those in person and on Zoom are welcome to ask questions. 

Light refreshments will be served. Register to attend via Zoom here.

Addiction treatment is central to criminal justice reform and increasingly important to policies aimed at poverty, child welfare, and social marginalization. Women are a particular focus of such policies. A larger portion of criminalized women face drug charges compared to men, and women are more likely to be investigated by child protection authorities and receive means-tested welfare benefits. This talk draws on ethnographic research in treatment programs specifically designed for women to examine how the rehabs understand and regulate women’s relationship to work, including both paid employment and unpaid care work in the family. I leverage a comparison between one rehab in the criminal justice system and one in the healthcare system to examine how race, class, and institutional context shape the gendered logics underlying their approaches to work. My research revealed that the carceral rehab de-emphasized the importance of paid work, even though both it and criminal justice authorities had work requirements. Moreover, it also discouraged gendered care work like mothering. Instead, the penal rehab demanded that women “work” on their selves. This was not the case at the healthcare rehab, which remained more supportive of and beholden to women’s ties with employers and families. The carceral rehab’s focus on changing selves rested on the idea that women’s disordered selves are the cause of their poverty, crime, drug use, and victimization. This resembles many other facets of social and penal policy that assume poor and racially marginalized groups need behavior modification rather than employment, education, or economic support.

Allison McKim is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bard College where she specializes in gender, punishment and social control, criminology, deviance, drug policy, the welfare state, and ethnographic research methods. Her new book, Addicted to Rehab: Race, Gender, and Drugs in the Era of Mass Incarceration (Rutgers University Press), is an ethnographic comparison of two drug treatment programs for women, one in the criminal justice system and one outside of the penal state in the health care system. In them she found very different ways of defining and treating addiction. Professor McKim's book reveals that addiction treatment reinforces the race, gender, and class politics of mass incarceration. Her work has also appeared in the journals Gender & Society and Signs. At Bard since 2010.

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