Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Wendy Luttrell

Committee Members

Marnia Lazreg

Carolina Bank Muñoz

Patricia Tovar

Subject Categories



electronic monitoring, community supervision, behavioral penology, ISAP, punishment, political history


Of the nearly 6 million people monitored by the prison and immigration enforcement complex in the US, a little over 4 million, or 70%, are under community supervision. If we narrow in on the nearly 350,000 people being monitored by the immigration system, the figure goes up to 93%. Yet, most studies on criminalization conducted in the US, prioritize confined individuals, neglecting community supervision. In this dissertation, I present the first theoretically driven, historical and sociological analysis that comprehensively targets fundamental questions about the political history of electronic monitoring in the US -- a practice also known as tagging. I concentrate on the understudied and essential period that starts in 1960 with the birth of electronic monitoring and ends in 2008 with the Postville raid, when the federal government first used electronic monitoring to selectively incapacitate a group of Indigenous mothers from Central America. While intended by its developers as a humane alternative to incarceration, electronic monitoring evolved into an expansion rather than a contraction of the carceral continuum and with it, US imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy. Drawing on field data and extensive primary sources -- including articles written by the developers of electronic monitoring devices, books, prisoner accounts, congressional hearings, official data and reports, newspaper articles, documentaries, and accounts by people under electronic monitoring surveillance -- I examine three questions: (1) What factors explain why and how electronic monitoring has expanded rather than contracted the carceral continuum? (2) How does electronic monitoring enact US imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy? and (3) What factors led to incorporating electronic monitoring into the immigrant deportation machine? I thread a set of intertwined histories related to the field of power and in particular, to mass incarceration, behavioral science and its use in prison, prison resistance, immigrant criminalization, and imperialist geopolitics. My analysis reveals that carceral expansion is associated with the resilience of ideological justifications, humanitarian rhetoric, the repression of de-colonial movements in the mid- 1960s and 70s, and the legacies of behavioral experimentation and behavioral sciences in the field of punishment. In the specific case of the incorporation of electronic monitoring as a deportation tool, I highlight the impact of reformist ideas in prison reform initiatives in the 1980s, as well as border regime transformations initiated by Reagan, the work of imperialism, and diverging interpretations of “alternative” to incarceration between the state and immigration justice activists. I propose a theoretical framework to understand how electronic monitoring relates to the field of power that conceptualizes the US border regime as an expression of geopolitics, and centers the Reagan administration as the historical reference to understand immigrant criminalization. Furthermore, I emphasize that through a political history of electronic monitoring it is possible to argue that the criminal justice system and the immigration enforcement system function as one industrial complex concomitant to the transition to neoliberalism. Finally, I emphasize the legacies of behaviorism in the field of punishment, and the role of ideology and racism in social control and population management. I also make important contributions to the field of social justice. I propose an applied political frame that prioritizes the voices of the people affected by electronic monitoring and, in the specific case of Latin American immigrants, the impact of US imperialism in sending countries. Based on this frame, I dismantle the binary argument that electronic monitoring is more bureaucratically and economically efficient, and ultimately less intrusive than and preferable to confinement, which hinders the abolitionist vision of overcoming historical, political uses of both incarceration, and electronic monitoring.

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