Criminalizing Care and Neglect in Sexual Assault Sentencing: Race and Punishment in Milwaukee, WI
In this talk, Sameena Mulla examines the role of care in the U.S. courts, particularly as it is scrutinized during the sentencing of people who have been convicted of sexual assault. In the course of a trial or a hearing, judges, attorneys, and witnesses often appeal to particular notions of community and public good. These forms of community are predicated on the recognition of particular forms of care, while they fail to see or even condemn others, often along lines of race. As testimony emerges, courts cultivate a worldview that casts suspicion on what the court perceives as Black kinship, community, and household. Sentencing decisions are embedded in whether the court imagines the community as a place where care and rehabilitation can take place. In the absence of the court’s ability to imagine community-based care, sentences relegate prisoners to in-custody imprisonment in the name of punishment, rehabilitation, and deterrence. Drawing on fieldwork from Milwaukee County felony courts, this talk works through the entangling of race, power, and sexuality driving the ways in which community emerges and is reconfigured in the courts. These processes are driven by the court’s politics of race, the narrowing of pathways for sexual assault survivors to attain justice, the production of courtroom spectacle, and the crisis of mass incarceration.