Punishment beyond Prison: Denying Housing to Formerly Incarcerated People in Greater Boston
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Every year over 600,000 people are released from incarceration in the United States. Upon their return to the free world, a big portion of this population faces housing insecurity or outright homelessness. Although research shows that access to stable housing reduces recidivism, federal and state regulations deny access to public or subsidized housing to most formerly incarcerated people and fuel discriminatory practices against them in the private housing market. In Greater Boston, where affordable housing is increasingly hard to find, people with criminal histories are particularly susceptible to housing instability. This thesis therefore addresses the little-discussed housing crisis that virtually anyone who has contact with the court system faces in an expensive metropolitan area like Greater Boston. Seeking to better understand housing instability among formerly incarcerated people, my main research question is: how do housing policies in the state of Massachusetts and at the federal level influence the housing experiences of people with a criminal record? To answer this question, I conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 formerly incarcerated people in the Greater Boston area over the summer. I also analyzed a number of secondary sources on federal and Massachusetts state policies regulating access to housing for people with a criminal history. At the core of my research analysis is the retrenchment of the welfare state, and the consequent expansion of the penal state in response to rising social and economic insecurity under a neoliberal regime. Borrowing from Loic Wacquant’s work, I argue that the extension of penal institutions through housing policies that discriminate against people with a criminal record is a way for the state to reaffirm its power in demarking a clear border between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. Within this punitive state, then, people in the dispossessed categories are seen as deserving of social death for moral failing to uphold neoliberal values of personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, competition, and adaptability to economic deregulation and privatization. Employing this theoretical framework, I examine how the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated related to housing fit within the parameters of the three aspects of social death proposed by Joshua M. Price: natal alienation, humiliation, and structural violence.
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