Engendering alternative justice: criminalized women, alternative justice, and neoliberalism

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Nelund, Amanda
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Feminist criminologists have a long history of arguing against the use of imprisonment and other formal justice system processes for criminalized women. Often feminist analyses of the formal criminal justice system end with a call for community alternatives. There has not, however, been a corresponding analysis of community programs. Critical criminologists have examined informal justice and have shown the variety of ways that seemingly alternative programs reproduce and support the formal criminal justice system. This dissertation draws from both of these criminological literatures and examines alternative justice programs for criminalized women. Based on interviews with staff at community justice programs in Winnipeg MB, I argue that these programs are neither the complete alternatives called for by feminists nor spaces which simply reproduce dominant justice system norms as found by critical criminologists. Rather, they are complex spaces of governance of criminalized women. The community programs exhibit both informal and formal characteristics. These programs engage in a variety of informal justice practices. The programs also offer informal care, advocacy, and culture services. Alongside these informal aspects of the programs, staff also engage in highly formal criminal justice work of supervision and case processing. I account for the presence of both informal and formal practices using governmentality theorists’ concepts of government-at-a-distance and responsibilization of the community. This makes them spaces in which dominant discourses and practices are reproduced. However, a close examination of the ways in which the programs construct the subject of governance, the Criminalized Woman, shows the influence of feminist discourses and reveals these spaces to be spaces of resistance as well. The specific ways that the programs respond to criminalized women and the mentalities embedded in them also reflect a tension between neoliberal and social justice approaches. Both a neoliberal mentality of proper self-governance and an ethic of care are present in the work the programs do. I argue that the presence of the multiple types of work, the alternative subjectivities offered to criminalized women, and ethic of care and practices of self-care all make the alternative justice programs spaces of resistance to dominant neoliberal strategies of governance.
criminology, feminist criminology, alternative justice, restorative justice, criminalized women, governmentality, ethic of care