Hannah Walker’s new book, Mobilized by Injustice: Criminal Justice Contact, Political Participation, and Race
(Oxford UP, 2020), brings together the political science and criminal justice disciplines in exploring how individuals are mobilized to engage in political participation by their connection to the criminal justice system in the United States. The fusion between these two academic disciplines, and the focus of their respective studies in this area, answers some questions that are often omitted or passed over by the individual disciplines given the kinds of questions posed by each discipline. Thus, the topics and issues explored in Mobilized by Injustice
focuses on political mobilization, advocacy, and activism, often beyond the issue of voting, to tease out how individuals who have been incarcerated or their friends and relatives are involved in the political system. The American criminal justice system is often seen as imposing the “prison beyond the prison” in how formerly incarcerated individuals are constrained and limited in their lives after they leave prison, including limits on voting rights in many states, limits on access to federal policies, and the myriad other ways in which these citizens are essentially marginalized with our society. Walker’s research digs into these constraints and also the stigmatization that individuals experience because of incarceration. At the same time that she is trying to discern how these individuals respond within the political system itself, Walker is also trying to get at how communities are impacted by the criminal justice system, exploring the ways in which this system can be particularly corrosive in certain communities.
The research explores political participation by a number of different and often intersecting groups, specifically the individuals who have been incarcerated or directly experienced the criminal justice system, and those who have proximate contact with that system, through their family member’s direct experience. Within these two umbrella groups, Walker also digs into distinctions across racial groups (white, black, Latinx) and across socio-economic categories (examining class distinctions in this context). Mobilized by Injustice
finds interesting results in the multi-method research approach, discerning different kinds of political involvement that is not captured by questions about whether an individual does vote or can vote. Rather, the research highlights that those with proximal contact with the criminal justice system have lower barriers to political engagement, which may lead them more naturally into politics because these individuals find themselves working as advocates for their family member who is incarcerated. Those who have been incarcerated face a variety of higher barriers, both structural and psychological, and they often need more support to engage in politics, because of the “dignity deficit” they may suffer because of societal stigmatization.
Mobilized by Injustice: Criminal Justice Contact, Political Participation, and Race
will likely be of interest to those who study political science, criminal justice, sociology, public policy, social science methodology, and race and class.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics
(University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America
(Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).