Firsts (and lasts?)
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
This Saturday would be my first conference presentation. Presenting my 2019 LLM thesis.
The work I’m presenting is special to me (would they all be? I hope) - It was the first time I immersed myself in a big question that I felt passionate about; the first time I truly researched. It was therapeutic, to go deep into the weeds. Researching and constructing my argument was a transformative experience: moving from a “wow that’s interesting” to “I have something new to tell the world.”
This work is about theory and law and the limits of surface-level evidence in explaining the sociological and moral meaning of discretionary parole as a legal phenomenon (that we tend to take for granted, but we shouldn't). Why do we have discretionary parole? And what can we learn about society and culture from it? (see abstract and panel recording below)
It was also the crest of what I consider to be the first leg of my academic training, one that I intend to move-on from. The first year of the Ph.D. was in the theme of growing from being a theorist to an empiricist. As much as I love theory and enjoy it, I feel uncomfortable doing work that is inaccessible; I’m not sure that I want to engage with other academics more than with the public and policy-makers (policy-makers would not be convinced by my analysis of Durkheim’s theory and implications for parole).
I’m taking an active part in the crisis of the humanities - that’s my confession.
This presentation then is my first big-boy academic experience but it might also be my last tango as a theorist. Time will tell!
What is the purpose of discretionary parole? I argue that beyond the utilitarian justifications, discretionary parole also serves a social function. Building on Durkheim's insights about punishment and its social function, I argue that the study of discretionary parole reveals another angle of society's moral boundaries and its criteria for social inclusion. I examine two jurisdictions - Israel and California. I discuss the utilitarian justifications for each and argue that they provide, at best, a partial answer to the research question. To understand how this (presumably) ultimate utilitarian legal mechanism is guided by a different set of principles, I turn to Durkheim's typology of law and his characterization of the nature of Punishment. In the process of discretionary parole, the prisoner is required to embrace what I describe as the Ruling Morality, through identification with the hegemonic ideology. In Israel, identifying with the Zionist ideology is a precondition for the chance of parole, so a whole class of Security Prisoners that resist the zionist ideology become excluded from discretionary release. In California, a prisoner who resists the neoliberal individualistic penal ideology, and holds on to concepts of systematic racism and social exclusion, will not be granted parole. The discretionary parole process emerges as a tool meant to break ideological resistance while maintaining a facade of a rational-legal process. The parole boards' guiding principle of "public safety" is now understood as an attempt to keep an "ideologically safe society," and assert further control not only of the bodies of prisoners but of their moral consciences as well.