Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Leith Mullings

Committee Members

Jeff Maskovsky

Dana-Ain Davis

Murphy Halliburton

Lorna Rhodes

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


reentry, prisons, criminal justice, incarceration, evidence-based practices, governance


With over 650,000 incarcerated people returning to their home communities each year, prisoner reentry reform has recently become as an important strand of penal policy innovation intended to address the barriers that former offenders face. Through ethnographic research in four correctional institutions in the Midwest, I trace the use of evidence-based practices and policies as they relate to prisoner reentry and risk reduction. This dissertation intervenes in the debates on mass incarceration and prisoner reentry and offers insights on how evidence-based practices and policies are being mobilized to mitigate the costs of mass incarceration. I show how the scientization of incarceration—that is, the criminal justice system’s recalibration such that scientific practices and rationalities take over functions that were previously based on other kinds of rules and practices—reshapes penal practice. This framework is based on numbers and statistical information. It quantifies risks and needs, as opposed to addressing structural inequalities like the lack of adequate housing opportunities, employment discrimination, racism and social inequality. Under the “new way of doing business,” staff members were viewed as helpers, not enforcers, and the penal system was re-characterized as less coercive. Prisoners were “responsibilized” so that their post-incarceration successes and failures became linked to their ability to self-govern. Yet, I demonstrate that reducing one’s risk of recidivism is not a simple choice of changing behavior. A person’s opportunities in life are bound up not just in their individual choices and behaviors, but also in the actions of others who produce and reproduce unequal relations of power.