Anthony Hatch, "Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America" (U Minnesota Press, 2019)


It’s no secret that the United States has the most expansive prison system of any nation in the world. And the US carceral system overwhelmingly and unjustly impacts Black and Brown individuals and communities. With postwar efforts to dismantle Jim Crow policies, our era of mass incarceration reproduced the old logics of white supremacism that uphold racist capitalism in this new setting. These are the things we know.

But in his book, Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America (U Minnesota Press, 2019), Professor Anthony Hatch observes a feature of mass incarceration essential to its everyday function that many of us had never considered: the large-scale, persistent use of psychotropic drugs, including antipsychotics and antidepressants, not for medical care but rather to control the behavior of incarcerated people. Making a persuasive claim drawn from his training in STS and sociology, Hatch observes how the drugs are used at the level of individual brain chemistry to commit “soul murder” with enormous systemic implications and political stakes. What’s more, the carceral elites’ use of psychotropic drugs for the purposes of pacification, not care, of their wards extends to other (often state-backed) settings of “captive America,” including the military, foster care, elder care, and international detention centers. “Is it possible for the US carceral state to exist without psychotropics,” Hatch asks. “I think we can say the answer is no.”

Silent Cells accomplishes more than the (important) tasks of documentation and analysis. It is a work of liberatory social science. The book is of a piece with Hatch’s abolitionist agenda that he pursues through his generous and generative scholarly and activist engagements, including his work as director of the Black Box teaching laboratory and chair of the Program in Science in Society at Wesleyan University.

This interview was a collaborative effort among Professor Laura Stark and students at Vanderbilt University in the course “Prison Medicine.” Please email Laura with any feedback on the interview or questions about the collaborative interview process: .

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Laura Stark

Laura Stark is Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society.

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