US Incarceration and Tropicalization…in Budapest

ELTE’s criminology department welcomed two guest speakers in January to share findings from the Western hemisphere’s most populous nations, the United States and Brazil.

US_FlagAs the former administrative director of Harvard’s Prison Legal Assistance Program, Sarah Morton has an intimate understanding of incareration in the US. Her lecture (prezi slides here) gave a sobering overview of current American prison practices. With 2.3 million prisoners nationally, the US has the largest incarerated population in the world. This figure masks a complex prison ecology, split across federal, state, and county governments and levels of security.

Morton drew special attention to the waining authority of state parole boards to grant early release, despite theIMG_20170126_1518226 mounting pressure on resources caused by overcrowding. Regrettably, the fear of appearing ‘soft on crime’ has penetrated both major political parties, leading to a punitive arms race. All this despite the blarring racial and economic disparities in the rates of incarceration. Criminologists now face the vital task of monitoring and resisting a new American administration that means to govern through fear and vengence.

Later in the month, Claudio Altenhain of the DCGC’s third cohort spoke of his research on the implementation of Detecta, a ‘smart’ crime monitoring system that the Brazilian state of São Paulo purchased from Microsoft and New York City back in 2014. Altenhain emphasized the ways in which the system, tailored for the specificities of NYC, has mutated as it struggles to adapt to the intricate reality of Brazilian law enforcement. This process of ‘tropicalization’ sheds light on both the limitations of policy migration and the conflicting interests of all the actors involved in Brazil and abroad.

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