In 2008, Monroe County moved to build a new, expanded jail -framed as a “justice campus” using humanitarian rhetoric.  In response, a diverse group of local residents founded an organization called Decarcerate Monroe County (DMC). 

Here is how they later summarized their activities:“DMC’s framework included embracing alternatives to punitive justice, promoting ways to decarcerate, and building a safer community. The justice campus proposal was defeated and the organization went on to fight campaigns against gentrification and discrimination, to ban the box (disclosing a felony conviction on job applications), to keep police out of the Youth Services Bureau.”

Judah Schept, our guest today, was an organizer in the successful DMC campaign to block jail expansion here, as well as a profound critic of what his book terms “progressive punishment,” in which humanist rationales are used to justify state violence and the expansion of caging.  This discourse has reappeared locally with Monroe County’s renewed drive to build new jail facilities on alleged human rights grounds, but is also a strategic feature of many prison and policing projects across the country right now. 

In the wake of the George Floyd Uprising, institutions which are founded in antiblack violence and incarceration are forced to use reformist language to justify the continuation and growth of that violence.  Another example is the Cop Academy proposed to be built on top of a treasured urban forest in Atlanta, whose boosters mobilize social justice rhetoric to justify spending tens of millions of dollars on a new police training facility.Micol Seigel conducted this interview with Judah, and was also a contributor to Decarcerate Monroe County’s successful campaign against the last round of jail expansion here in Bloomington.