Book Review: For the children? Protecting innocence in a carceral state

AuthorEileen M. Ahlin
Date01 June 2018
Publication Date01 June 2018
SubjectBook Reviews
involvement in public safety through alternative conflict resolution processes. Decoupling treatment
from punishment was proposed as well as a philosophical reorientation to harm reduction.
Although Schept provides an important contribution in Progressive Punishment, it is marred by
two weaknesses. First, his contribution is diluted by what is, at times, unnecessarily obscure lan-
guage, which will limit its reach and impact. In addition, while his methodology is appropriate, he
helped found DMC, an organization adamantly against the justice campus. Schept disclosed he
remained active in the organization and discussed the need to be reflexive, given his embeddedness
in the very processes he studied. This is a concern, as his position may have impacted his inter-
pretations, particularly the behavior of those advocating for the justice campus and the responses of
interviewees who would obviously have known of his involvement in DMC.
Progressive Punishment illustrates “how well-meaning initiatives that may purport to be dec-
arcerative can result in further elongating the carceral continuum” (p. 252). Community leaders
wanted the best for their community and were willing to do whatever necessary to increase public
safety. However, the justice campus proposal would have fallen in line with the very structures to
which they claimed to be ideologically opposed. It seems that tunnel vision played a role: Once the
geographic site was envisioned as the justice campus, this dominant narrative was largely unshak-
able to the point that community leaders crafted criticisms into support and largely neglected the
viewpoints of those most affected. This case study is a clear example of how “the road to hell is
paved with good intentions.”
Meiners, E. R. (2016). For the children? Protecting innocence in a carceral state. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press. 265 pp. $94.50, cloth ISBN 978-0-8166-9275-0
Reviewed by: Eileen M. Ahlin, School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, PA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817704694
The most recent book from scholar Erica R. Meiners, For the Children, provides a multipronged
approach of the issues related to the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon. In this work, she
attaches racial, ethnic, gendered, and nonheteronormative meaning to the inherent repercussions
stemming from the use of “new forms of surveillance” (p. 6) purportedly developed to protect
children by showing the reader that they are actually harming youth. Through the development of
a carceral state, such surveillance is growing and dominant among increasingly younger age-groups,
particularly in urban area schools. Surveillance and attempts at state control over childhood often
takes the form of police officers in hallways, metal detectors, arrests on school grounds, and (due to
high numbers of school-aged youth on probation) remote probation centers dedicated to students at
individual schools. The key issue with the increased reliance on such surveillance techniques is that
they really are just old wine in new bottles and serve to propagate established discrimination
practices against minorities. Meiners succinctly outlines how these newer methods mirror historical
practices, such as slavery, Black codes, and the Mann Act, while operating to deny certain youth
rightful access to childhood; a social construct that has deep connotations of innocence and malle-
ability. By demarcating nonminority heteronormative youth as needing more protections than their
racially, ethnically, and nonheteronormative counterparts, they are granted the luxury of childhood,
and the vicious cycle of the carceral state begins earlier for those not afforded a childhood.
Meiners clearly demonstrates the link between earlier involvement in the criminal justice system,
as a function of increased focus on policing childhood, and straight-lining the path to incarceration.
Book Reviews 273

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