Punishment Beyond Bars: Pursuing Higher Education with the Degree of Incarceration
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Sociology
Dr. Arthur Scarritt
Legal scholar Michelle Alexander asserts that upon reentry into society, formerly-incarcerated individuals are sequestered into what she has termed America’s new undercaste – “a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society” (Alexander 2012; pg. 13). The incarcerated population in the US of over 2.3 million people represents this nation’s poorest, most mentally ill, and least educated persons (Wagner and Rabuy 2017). The criminal justice system, a race-making institution, also incarcerates people of color at disproportionate rates. Alexander’s evidence regarding the undercaste coupled with the breadth of research indicating that gaining a college degree is one of the greatest potential ways to escape the undercaste led me to investigate whether going to college and getting a degree helps or hinders the process of trying to overcome one’s position in the undercaste (Chappell 2004; Kelso 2000; Anders and Noblit 2011; Karpowitz and Kenner 1995). I utilize the narratives of four formerly-incarcerated students to illuminate the most enduring barriers that this population faces. I have found that institutional discrimination and media shaming dehumanize formerly-incarcerated college students and force them to avoid stigma which in turn undercuts the efficacy of their education.
Fretwell, Michelle, "Punishment Beyond Bars: Pursuing Higher Education with the Degree of Incarceration" (2019). 2019 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference. 47.