Black women and the criminal justice system
Although this thesis statement sounds simplistic enough, there is a need to demonstrate its validity because the theory and practice of punishment focus exclusively on the punishment of offenders' as if anyone who is 'punished' is necessarily an offender. A review of the philosophy and theory of punishment reveals that the punishment of the innocent is conceptualised as a logical impossibility or contradiction because punishment is conventionally construed to presuppose an offence. The present dissertation argues that the punishment of the innocent is not always a mistake or a miscarriage of justice but also an inherent feature of the adversarial nature of criminal justice which assumes formal equality between parties who are substantively unequal in class, race and gender relations. This dissertation is guided by the assumption that the more central punishment is to any theory or practice of criminal justice the greater the tendency for that theory or practice to conceal or truncate relatively autonomous issues that are routinely packaged with, and thereby colonised by, the conceptual empire of punishment. The historical materialist theory of the articulation of race, class and gender relations is applied hereto show how poor black women in particular, poor black people mid poor women m general, are uniquely vulnerable to victimization-as-punishment and victimization-in-punishment and how they struggle against these. The former refers to the ‘punishment’ of innocent people sometimes because they are close to targeted individuals and sometimes because they are framed and made to appear guilty. The latter refers to punishment which is unusual or out of proportion in relation to the nature of the offence. The concept of colonialism is employed in this thesis to underscore the close links between the law-and-order politics of today and the imperial traditions of the past and to emphasise the colonisation of relatively autonomous institutions and processes by the criminal justice system. Towards the decolonisation of victimisation, or the understanding of the nature of victimisation-as-punishment and victimisation-in-punishment as part of the processes of imperial domination which survive in the internal colonies and the colonies of today, the history of the victimisation of black women in the guise of punishment is sketched from the days of enslavement, through conquest and colonialism, to neo-colonialism as a useful background to understanding the victimisation of black women and other marginalised categories specifically in the internal colonies of England , with analogous evidence from other locations brought in to throw more light on the situation in England. Informed by feminist research and by critical criminology, the present dissertation adopts the method of data reception that differs from data collection in the sense that the former respects the autonomy of sources of data which the latter tends to take for granted. Empirical data were received from individuals and groups who were aware of the problems that faced black women in the criminal justice system in England. Such information was complemented by the personal observations of the present researcher and by what is already known from previous research and publications.This dissertation concludes by explaining the theoretical, methodological and practical implications of the present research especially for people who are active m the struggles against the problems that face black women and people like them in the criminal justice system in particular and society in general. The major implication of the present research is that since the problems that face black women in the criminal justice system can be seen to result from the articulation of unequal and oppressive class, race and gender relations; research, theory and struggles must be aware of all three rather than prioritising, distancing or isolating one or two of these social relations.