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Reflection on Annette Bickford’s Guest Lecture

I found Annette Bickford’s guest lecture extremely interesting, especially her discussion of liberal humanism and how it protects institutions using the example of the multicultural classroom. Specifically, she describes how the multicultural classroom is a site that makes racism worse, as the brief cultural celebrations give an allusion that everything is okay, but in reality reinforces a white standard. I think that this logic can extend to other inherently racial states. For example, what does it mean to “give a seat at the table” in corporate environments? What does it mean when you put Black and Brown people in executive positions of large corporations that have histories of exploiting laborers? If capitalism (and other racialized sites) do not become ethical solely by representation, why do we, as a society, continue to push for it? If not diversifying the place, what is the alternative? The Bickford discussion left me with numerous questions on how we should think about making space for people, both what it truly means and its implications in upholding the current system.

Analyzing the “Australian Mission”

by Nia Williams

Image: “Australian Mission”

Film is a vital primary resource because it has the ability to capture power, which is central to the study of incarceration. Power, being the structure that propels colonization and racial capitalism, is essential to understanding 20th century Australia’s forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families by both state officials and church missionaries, in an era now known as “The Stolen Generation”[2].

In a Getty Images album titled, “1909-1969: Australia – The Stolen Generation”, an unnamed photographer captures striking moments during this part of history. One image in particular, named “Australian Mission”[3], stands out. Taken on July 21, 1960 in the Northern Territory of Australia, the photo depicts a Roman Catholic missionary named Father Cosgrove posing in the center of four Aboriginal boys. Cosgrove, a superintendent of the Daly River Mission, is dawning a white shirt and black glasses with his arms around the two boys in the front, who appear younger than the boys in the back. All of the boys are smiling at the camera, while the man has a more subtle, yet still positive, look. There is a building in the background, presumably a church, that clearly situates them in a religious context. The two boys in the front are holding what look to be hair combs- perhaps this was taken in the morning when they were getting ready for the day.

The caption beside the picture states that the “mission provides education, medical care, food and entertainment for several hundred aborigines in the area”[4], framing the situation in an altruistic manner. The fact that the children are eagerly smiling creates a positive mood for the viewer, signifying that the image was most likely intended for white Australian audiences, as it reflected their patronistic attitude towards Aboriginals. Despite the fact that this is unequivocally an era of Aboriginal Genocide, many Australians felt that they were “bettering” Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders by assimilating them into whiteness and stripping them of their culture[5]. This idea was particularly applied to mixed-race Aboriginals, derogatively called “half-castes”, for white Australians thought it was easier to erase their Aboriginality[6]. For example, in 1927, Dr. Cecile Cook, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, ordered that “full-blooded” Aboriginals be segregated from “half-castes”, in an attempt to prevent the “‘[absorption of] the white population of the Northern Territory [into the Black population]’”[7]; furthermore, “half-castes” were to be “‘reared at European standards and given statutory state-school education’”[8]. Though it is not clear how long these specific policies lasted and whether or not the Daly River Mission, a Catholic institution, took part in the aforementioned schooling, it is reasonable to assume that the values of this mission were driven by the same values of this era.

Despite the positive, happy-go-lucky depiction of these missions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were often brutalized, as they were mentally, physically, and sexually abused; exploited for their labor; and “denied any connection to their Aboriginal lands”[9]; this reveals how Anglo-Australians were largely unconcerned with the humanity and livelihood of Aboriginal children, contrary to what the language at the time often decreed. What this illustrates is that underneath the public desire to “absorb” Aboriginality as a means of creating a more “civilized” society lied the colonial appetite to land ownership and resource exploitation. In other words, the Aboriginals’ connection to the land was an obstacle to capitalist expansion, meaning that cultural assimilation was not just a matter of “whitening” the people, but a matter of destroying Indigeneity itself- it was an economic tool[10]. This unveils a much more insidious background of the photograph, as the conveyed positivity morphs into something dark and painful. In fact, there is a trigger warning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people before viewing the photo album, clearly displaying the persisting harm this era has caused.

With this information in mind, the photograph becomes a larger depiction of racial capitalism’s role in carceral systems predicated on white supremacy. Much like African-American youth in the U.S. Jim Crow South’s juvenile reformatories[11], Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth were treated as objects to further white capitalist expansion, which was done by stripping them of their resources and land while justifying racial ideologies. In a way, both systems cloaked their goals under the guise of “modernity”[12], as if progress towards some human-made capitalistic pursuit mattered more than the lives of other human beings. Perhaps this was so natural for both Anglo-Australian and white Southern societies because the concept of race created a perceived hierarchy among humans that allowed them to justify such cruelty. After all, capitalism and race are so intertwined that the advancement of one idea further propels the other. In this case, economic expansion paved by erasing Indigeneity brought forth the widespread idea of “full-blooded” versus “half-caste” Aboriginals that was cemented by legislation that designated differential treatment between the two social groups; this parallels how juvenile reformatories in the Jim Crow South further propelled racist notions of Black Americans, and were created as a means for economic gain in the South by seating them closer to the North’s concept of “modernity”[13]. So too were these reformatories painted as forgiving places for Black youth, when in reality they often abused the children they housed[14].

Thus, the image titled, “Australian Mission”, becomes a proxy for analyzing racial capitalism’s role in the era of Australia’s Stolen Generation. Though missionary schools, like Daly River Missionary, were not prisons; they were certainly carceral sites, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were stolen from their families and their land to attend these institutions, and oftentimes abused and exploited for labor. Interestingly enough, many argue that this era has not ended; as contemporary “child protection” practices eerily parallel the language and actions of those during the era of The Stolen Generation[15]. Such news is unfortunately not surprising given that racial capitalism is still expanding through the veins of neoliberalism. Perhaps justice for Aboriginal Peoples is truly not conceivable in a capitalist society.



[1] “Australian Mission.” In Getty Images – 1909-1969: Australia – The Stolen Generation. Seattle, WA: Getty Images, 1960. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C2684146.

[2] Leticia Funston, Sigrid Herring, and ACMAG, “When Will the Stolen Generations End? A Qualitative Critical Exploration of Contemporary ‘Child Protection’ Practices in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities ,” Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand 7, no. 1 (June 2016): pp. 51-58.

[3] “Australian Mission.”.

[4] “Australian Mission.”.

[5] Margaret D. Jacobson, “Designing Indigenous Child Removal Policies,” in White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2009).

[6] Funston, Herring, and ACMAG, Stolen Generations, 52.

[7] Jacobson, White Mother, 34.

[8] Jacobson, White Mother, 35.

[9] Funston, Herring, and ACMAG, Stolen Generations, 52.

[10] Jacqueline Allain, “Stealing Indigenous Children: Canada, the US, and Australia,” (Lecture, Duke University, July 27, 2020).

[11] Annette Louise Bickford, Southern Mercy: Empire and American Civilization in Juvenile Reform, 1890-1944 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).

[12]  Jacobson, White Mother, 25-26.

[13] Bickford, Southern Mercy, 6.

[14] Bickford, Southern Mercy, 150, 152-154.

[15] Funston, Herring, and ACMAG, Stolen Generations.

Penal Sentencing and the Latino Juvenile Offender

by Taylor Huie

Source: “Latinos in the Juvenile Justice: Youth Crime, but Adult Time”[1]

Written by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute fellow Angela  Medina in 2001, the article shown above was published by El Editor, a weekly bilingual English and Spanish newspaper based in Midland-Odessa, Texas.[2] This article details the effect of “tough-on-crime” legislation on rulings and treatment of juvenile offenders. Medina focuses on the distinct relationship between race and juvenile rulings under these new legislations – most notably the skewed adult treatment of Latino youth compared to white juveniles. She notes that Latino youth were found three times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated on account of similar public order offenses.[3] Medina shares the story of a 16-year-old Latino boy tried as an adult for a crime he did not directly commit. This narrative is shared to represent the unjust criminal treatment of youth as young as 11 years old under the “tough-on-crime” legislation and specifically the biased criminal rulings for Latino youth.

Though this is a fairly recent document in the scope of history, it provides insight into the relationship between race, age, and incarceration during a highly turbulent time of American penal and racial history. To understand the intended scope of this article, it is important to note its placement and context within the newspaper itself.  The article was published side-by-side in both English and Spanish on the first page of this edition of El Editor. This indicates the relative importance of the article compared to surrounding articles published only in English or Spanish. In fact, this article is the only one in the entire newspaper published in both languages. This suggests its intended message was regarded as so important that is was necessary to take up additional front-page newspaper real estate to ensure all individuals could read and understand its message. Removing any potential language barrier suggests the intended audience was anyone that might have access to the newspaper or come across the article. Therefore, rather than targeting a specific audience, its message was intended to be shared with all audiences. That said, the newspaper’s subheading is “Serving the Hispanic Market Since 1977.”[4] So while Medina perhaps intended for this article to reach a wider audience, its actual scope was likely skewed toward primarily Hispanic individuals in Western Texas.

While the effects Medina addresses on legislation related to decreased tolerance for crime in the United States may not have been the initial intent of these ruling, they have resulted in unforgiving sentencing for juveniles and minority youth. Medina offers statistics on the danger young people face in adult penal facilities and acknowledges that while these statistics are widely documented, no action has been taken to protect these youth.[5] In adult penal facilities, youth are denied opportunities and programs commonly provided by juvenile centers such as less harsh sentences, education, mental health treatment, rehabilitation, and both sexual and physical protection. United States Justice Potter Stewart expressed concern toward the impact of “tough-on-crime” legislation, suggesting it seems to promote a penal system focused on punishment versus rehabilitation.[6] Stewart emphasizes that the initial purpose of a separate juvenile justice system was to “correct a condition,” likely referring to the 70% of juvenile offenders with at least one psychiatric disorder.[7] In the absence of rehabilitative programs, it makes sense why juveniles sentenced to adult penal facilities are less likely to be successfully rehabilitated into good capital subjects with low recidivism. Research on juvenile delinquency and sentencing conducted in Texas found that while harsh sentencing of juvenile offenders may under certain conditions result in decreased recidivism, the cost-benefit analysis was unjustifiable.[8] By trying juveniles as adults and increasing juvenile incarceration, not only is it detrimental to the development of these young people, but it also creates an unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers.[9] Rather than spending the $360 million annually, as the research extrapolates, these funds could instead be invested toward valuable goods and services for the public or within the justice system.[10] Reallocating these funds could work to decrease the number of young people committing crimes in the first place. This shift, however, would require a revolutionary movement to choose to prevent rather than treat or respond to crime.

Just before the publishing of Medina’s article on the juvenile judicial system, Mexico’s newly elected president Vincent Fox vowed to improve the status of its estimated over 3.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.[11] This timely political promise suggests the presence of Latinos in the United States during the early 2000s was largely considered unfavorable, perhaps suggesting there were strong racial sentiments toward Latino immigrants and Latino American citizens. Medina references research analyzing the impact of placing juveniles in the adult criminal justice system.[12] Interestingly, the research does not specify whether the Latino juveniles studied were immigrants or US citizens, a distinction of seemingly increasing political importance. This suggests that the status of criminals’ citizenship was perhaps regarded as less significant compared to their race. Part of the reasoning behind this disregard for citizenship may have been a result of most incarcerated people of Mexican descent claiming US nativity in order to avoid deportation following the end of their sentence.[13] This, however, was not the only instance of racial injustice and disregard for citizenship in the history of the United States penal system. Individuals of African descent also have a long-standing unjust relationship with discipline and punishment in the Western world. In the post-emancipation era, former slaves in both the United States[14] and its territories[15] were legally considered citizens but were strategically prevented from ever reaching the full status of citizenship under the driving forces of racial capitalism and systemic racism. Similar analyses can be applied to the biased treatment of Latino juvenile offenders. This chain of injustice present throughout the penal system, from its inception to present, effectively perpetuates the suppression of minority groups.

While racial injustice is certainly an important aspect of the statistics detailed in Medina’s article, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the other factors of prejudice and social justice that undoubtedly play a role in the minority representation in the juvenile justice system. This article, therefore, serves to only begin to unveil the cruel reality of juvenile and racial criminalization in America, as well as the unjust treatment of juvenile offenders as adults. This article is not just informative, but it is a demand for justice. It is a call to action for maltreated communities and allies to protect their friends, family, and children.



[1] Angela Medina, “Latinos in the Juvenile Justice: Youth Crime, but Adult Time,” El Editor 20, no. 30 (March 14, 2001): 1. https://voices-revealdigital-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/?a=d&d=ELEDIT20010314-01.1.1&srpos=9&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-juvenile+incarceration————–1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bonnie T. Zima, “Tough on Crime or Tougher on Those Who Need Care?” Psychiatric Services 59, no. 9 (2008): 955–55. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.2008.59.9.955.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Simon M. Fass et al., “Getting Tough on Juvenile Crime: An Analysis of Costs and Benefits,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 39, no. 4 (2002): 363–99. https://doi.org/10.1177/002242702237285.

[9] Fass et al., “Getting Tough,” 383.

[10] Fass et al., “Getting Tough,” 386.

[11] “Timeline: U.S.-Mexico Relations,” Council on Foreign Relations, accessed July 28, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-mexico-relations.

[12] Jolanta Juszkiewicz, “Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served?” Corrections Today, (February 2001). https://www.njjn.org/uploads/digital-library/resource_127.pdf.

[13] Paul S. Taylor, “Crime and the Foreign Born: The Problem of the Mexican” in Report on Crime and Criminal Justice in Relation to the Foreign Body for National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, (Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1931), 197-243. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/44548NCJRS.pdf.

[14] Sarah Haley, “No Mercy Here,” University Press Scholarship Online, (September 2016): 9.

[15] Dawn P. Harris, “Punishing the Black Body: Marking Social and Racial Structures in Barbados and Jamaica,” University of Georgia, (December 01, 2017): 94.

Convict Leasing and Racial Capitalism

by Genoveva Ntirugelegwa

Juvenile convicts at work in the fields[1]


While we have dissected prison in many different time periods and forms throughout this course, convict leasing is a part of prison history that I have become increasingly interested in. Convict leasing developed throughout the South immediately after the Civil War. In Sarah Haley’s No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity, Haley describes convict leasing as a system that emerged in the U.S. South to fill the labor void caused by emancipation. Convict leasing is a process that forces inmates to perform manual labor and sell this labor to private companies. Post-emancipation, imprisonment became a method of extracting the cheap labor needed for the southern plantation economy. I am most interested in analyzing convict leasing as principal example of racial capitalism, a phenomenon that has underlined incarceration in the United States since the nation’s inception.

I found my primary source while searching through the Library of Congress for images depicting convict leasing. The photograph I selected is titled Juvenile convicts at work in the fields. This image was created in 1903, but the original photographer is unknown. From my own research and knowledge of convict leasing, I would reason that the original photographer was likely a member of an organization that was leasing agricultural labor from the prison where these children were being held. What is so striking about this image is the mere existence of child convicts, accompanied by the fact that they were being forced to do hard labor. The word “child” and “criminal” seem to be mutually exclusive in my own mind, but in the U.S. South in the 20th century, this idea was not an anomaly.

I presume the intended audience for this image could have been the photographer’s superiors, as evidence of the work being done. I think the purpose of this photo could be, as previously mentioned, evidence that these children were, in fact, working, or possibly to serve as a historical record of events. I would find it odd to photograph something as bizarre as child prisoners, but convict leasing was prominent in the southern United States at the time, so the sight of child prisoners performing manual labor was likely a normal aspect of life for the photographer.

the year 1903, when this image was created, is in the heart of the convict leasing system. Before the Civil War, prisons were made up of mostly white men – considering the fact that nearly all black people were considered property. In his article Freedom and Convict Leasing in the Postbellum South, Christopher Muller states: “Just 15 years after the Civil War, African-Americans were imprisoned at a rate more than 12 times that of whites. Racial disparity in imprisonment in postbellum Georgia was twice as large as it is in the United States today” [2]. Emancipation posed both immense social and economic shifts in the U.S. South, and this resulted in a great shift in Southern inmate populations, including Georgia. Southerners could not conceive interacting with their former slaves as freedmen. Imprisonment served as a way to relegate former slaves to second-class citizenship and continue to exploit their labor through the prison system.

Convict leasing is often talked about as slavery by another name, but I would argue that it is yet another manifestation of racial capitalism. Muller provides the following argument: “In postbellum Georgia, the relationship between slavery and imprisonment was characterized by contention more than by functional succession. It was in the counties where African-Americans evaded plantations or established their own farms—not in the cotton belt—that black men were most likely to be imprisoned in the convict lease system”[3].

It is here that the intrinsic entanglement between capitalism and race are made clear. Convict leasing and slavery exist as both racial and economic systems. Race in society creates a hierarchy between those who own the means of production, and those who must sell their labor to the elite class. The U.S. South depended on racial hierarchy to justify the means in which they exploited workers, creating a large pool of cheap labor for the Southern economy. Muller found that convict leasing was more prominent in Georgia counties where black people worked to become the owners of their labor (counties where black people their own farms or did not work on plantations). Convict leasing then served as punishment for African Americans that refused to fill their designated role in the capitalist economy.

Racism and capitalism work together in particularly appalling ways justify the incarceration of children, as depicted in Juvenile convicts at work in the fields. The racialization of black women as detailed by Sarah Haley led to the idea that “that the black female body reproduced criminality and, by extension, a class of subjects that could be made captive and work mercilessly”[4]. Just as racialization has stripped black women of vulnerability and protections associated with white women, it also stripped black children of their childhood. Women could be incarcerated for failures as a parent, and their children could be incarcerated for nothing more than losing their parents.

The idea that convict leasing was slavery by another name fails to consider the larger systemic issue – racial capitalism. Capitalism creates an economic system where inequality is imperative, and racism ensures that a hierarchy is created and sustained. Racialization, with the purpose of creating a class of cheap, exploitable laborers, is the process with justifies stripping vulnerable populations of their perceived vulnerability and is ultimately the reason an image like Juvenile convicts at work in the fields exists.









[1] Juvenile convicts at work in the fields, 1903. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016818521/


[2] Christopher Muller, “Freedom and Convict Leasing in the Postbellum South,” American Journal of Sociology 124, no. 2 (September 2018): 368.


[3] Christopher Muller, “Freedom and Convict Leasing in the Postbellum South,” American Journal of Sociology 124, no. 2 (September 2018): 371.


[4] Sarah Haley. No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (United States: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 7.