Alexes Harris. A Permanent Punishment for the Poor

Monday, November 2, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

A Permanent Punishment for the Poor

In this presentation I discuss the criminal sentencing practice of monetary sanctions, which are now regularly imposed to people convicted of felonies across the United States.  I present data from a mixed-method study in Washington State to illustrate the “punishment continuum,” i.e., variations in the assessment and monitoring of fiscal sentences within the state.  I highlight the role of contemporary criminal justice bureaucrats and of American values in the assessment and application of legal policy. From this analysis, we see how the system of monetary sanctions is a mechanism used to require offenders to express their remorse and accountability for their offending.  And, if one is unable to make sufficient or regular payments, monetary sanctions serve as a permanent punishment with dramatic consequences for individuals’ emotions, re-entry into their communities, and future life chances.  

Alexes Harrisis an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington and earned her PhD in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2002. She also serves as an affiliate at the West Coast Poverty Center and Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology. Her research focuses on social stratification processes and racial and ethnic disparities, particularly on how contact with institutions like the educational and the criminal justice system impact individuals’ life chances. Harris’ current research examines the criminal sentencing practice of imposing fines and fees on people convicted of felonies and the related consequences for people who are unable to pay. Her book on this topic currently forthcoming from Russell Sage and ASA Rose Book Series (A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for Poor People, expected spring 2016). Harris’ research for this book has already received widespread media attention from outlets like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, Mother Jones, Aljazeera, King5 News and The Seattle Times. She has also testified before the Washington State legislature and Washington State Supreme Court about racial and ethnic inequalities in the criminal justice system and sentencing practices. She was recently appointed by United States Attorney General to a four-year appointment on the Office of Justice Programs Science Advisory Board.   

Harris’ work has been published in a number of academic journals, including The American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Law and Society Review andSymbolic Interaction.  With a recently awarded grant,she is continuing her research on monetary sanctions to replicate and expand her Washington study in seven other states with collaborators.