Resisting the scourge of managerialism: on the uses of discretion in late-modern prisons
Over the last three decades or so, or in what sociologists often prefer to call the era of ‘late modernity’, the postwar transformative rationales for the correctional system are said to have been replaced by a pragmatic, technologically supported and quantiﬁcation-oriented political rationality widely known as ‘managerialism’ (Loader and Sparks 2002). Under this critical prism, prisons and their performance are no longer evaluated by reference to individual offenders or any intractable social purposes like rehabilitation and resocialisation, but rather depend upon more feasible and measurable targets like the proper allocation of resources, meticulous record-keeping, streamlined case processing, the reduction of overcrowding and, perhaps most pointedly, the management or even the control (but, at any rate, not the elimination) of the risk of crime (see further Clear and Cadora 2001). Accordingly, prisoners are viewed not as coherent subjects, but as aggregates or mere statistical units within impersonal frameworks of policies, with the criminal justice system now increasingly employing probabilistic risk calculations and statistical distributions applicable to groups of offenders, thereby sorting them by levels of dangerousness and eventually placing them under respective control mechanisms. On the one hand, by protractedly removing large groups of high-risk bearers into prisons, it is purported that signiﬁcant, albeit still temporary, aggregate crime reductions can be effected (but see Petersilia et al. 1986). On the other hand, those classiﬁed as lower-risk offenders are distributed (or even re-distributed, for that
matter) in a wide variety of community-based sanctioning schemes that, disoriented from their originally intended rehabilitative and reintegrative aspirations, serve as low-cost surveillance mechanisms, often by means of frequent drug testing (see further Feeley and Simon 1992).