||Defining the Strike Zone: Criminal Law as Socio-Ecological Quarantine
In one sense it is poetic logic—if not poetic justice—that the perception of a nearly ubiquitous condition of peril has produced support for a nearly ubiquitous policing and surveillance apparatus. But the logic of the lockdown may produce even more troubling parallels than a self-imposed and self-protective restriction of movement that corresponds to the punitive imprisonment of violent offenders. Three strikes is premised on the rejection of the ideology of correction—a marked shift in the ideology of imprisonment that possibly signals a break as profound as that from punitive to corrective punishment. As Foucault asserts, the discourse of criminology provided a scientific basis for the rationale for imprisonment: "the alibi. . . that if one imposes a penalty on somebody it is not to punish what he has done but to transform what he is."21 But it was all too quickly discovered that prisons, far from reforming criminals,
But because the carceral state (which, it must again be emphasized, employs a host of nominally private actors) includes not only the explicitly criminal population but also entails a regulation of the law abiding, one can observe a similar logic in the structure of urban geography in its ordering of populations. Instead of a system of justice based on vengeance that punishes wrongdoers, a system based on regulation finds it expedient to sort and segregate populations according to lifestyle, habits, attitudes, and cultural attributes. Thus we have a spectrum from the prison to the walled subdivision, from the jail to the secured office tower. The methods of segregation are as various as the "electronic handcuff" employed to monitor the movement of parolees, housing discrimination (actually advocated as a means of controlling the urban underclass in a New Republic essay by Charles Murray23), fiscal or exclusionary zoning, and the privatization and resulting restriction of formerly public services and turf.
This would be troubling enough even if these methods could be expected to reduce the level of violence in society. But just as the use of prison for reform purposes was a failure, instead producing ever more crime, the segregation or isolation of populations in carceral structures is likely to produce increasing levels of violence and fear. The restriction of individual movement and the isolation of the ghetto and the prison impedes socialization, inhibits sociability, and thus breeds antisocial behavior. Although the early sociology of the ghetto proposed that antisocial behavior among the inner-city poor was a function of retrograde cultural norms, a "culture of poverty," this view has been revisited and revised24 with an eye toward the effects of structural geographic segregation and isolation themselves. Rather than a causal link between culture and antisocial behavior, contemporary observers have found a more plausible link between social isolation and dysfunctional socialization.
What then might be the consequences of the nominally self-imposed isolation of a large and growing segment of the American upper and middle classes? One can expect an increasingly fragmented and isolated populus to develop a variety of subcultural norms that will prove dysfunctional outside the confines of a homogeneous workplace-bedroom community-shopping/recreation center nexus. These populations can be expected to grow more fearful of an underclass they know only through their media-orchestrated nightmares. Worse yet, the perverse forms of socialization that a surveillance society produces may be dysfunctional even within the social sphere that creates them. To paraphrase James Baldwin: In the face of one's prisoner, one sees oneself. Walk the halls of the prison or the streets of the ghetto and see what we, this nation, have become.25
Three strikes claims to protect society from the born criminal, to draw
a sharp boundary between the innocent who deserve freedom from the menace
of crime and the guilty who deserve lifelong isolation. But these laws
will not reduce the bulk of the crime that actually affects its supporters,
and it will leave unaffected the media theater of crime and deviance, a
series of spectacles largely autonomous of the material phenomena of social
transgression. Three strikes generates not a solution to the problem or
the perception of crime, but rather the rationale for its continued existence
and the expansion of its corrosive social logic. Because the boundary between
criminal and law abiding, deviant and normal, is inherently unstable and
by nature manipulable, the oppressive consequences of three strikes and
the ideology it represents will not be limited to "criminal personalities"—or
indeed to any stable or defined class. The category "deviant" travels well
but never rests long, visiting the discursive fields of race and class,
the terrain of inner city and suburb, the scientific space of genetics
and eugenics. Almost as oppressive as its effect on the individuals it
will jail for life is the effect of three strikes on the society as a whole.
Three strikes evokes the direct inversion of Thomas Jefferson's famous
dictum: a social milieu in which the price of constant vigilance is freedom.