Digital databases, not detention centers, jails, or prisons, are becoming the leading edge of criminal justice in the United States. While more than 2 million people are incarcerated and more than 5 million are under some form of correctional supervision, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 100,596,300 names are stored in criminal history databases. In some cities, 80 percent of the black male population is registered in these databases. Whereas the Chicago Police Department is beset with “literally hundreds of millions of rows of data,” the New York Police Department has access to more than 33 billion public records. The National Crime Information Center in West Virginia processes data on almost 13 million transactions per day. This book traces the history of these data and the machines that produce, analyze, and circulate them.
With the advent of big data, database systems have slowly emerged as logistical tools for constantly patrolling criminalized urban populations. An incomprehensibly extensive field of state-managed databases stores information on at-risk youth, “black identity extremists,” crime hot spots, gang suspects, illegal “aliens,” potential crime hot spots, potential criminal offenders, inmates, parolees, probationers, quality-of-life offenders, sexual deviants, and terror suspects. The information technology (IT) sector has played no small part in this development. The International Data Corporation claims that it can cut crime by 20 percent through citywide data infrastructures. Security technology firms such as Palantir have employed “civil liberties engineers” to ensure that their software will shield public agencies from civil litigation. Opportunistic law enforcement officials, research institutes, and scholars have espoused the miraculous abilities of data-driven crime control. A division in the Los Angeles Police Department once credited its predictive crime analytics initiative with a zero-crime day. Public–private organizations like the World Economic Forum estimated that digital crime pattern mapping, gunshot detection, and video analytics could reduce the incidence of crime by 40 percent. At the same time, they argued, the technologies could increase quality-of-life indicators by anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. Cutting-edge technology looks to have a bright future in criminal justice; in fact, futuristics is now taught at law enforcement academies.
But this future is actually old. Much of the criminal justice system’s digital repertoire was first envisioned by technocrats and tech corporations in the late 1960s, during the onset of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Crime (see chapter 1). Many of the core technologies were initially rolled out in the late 1980s, in the thick of the War on Drugs. Such was a time when the state’s solution to social problems in the so-called inner city was communicated in brutally simple terms: round up and manage problematic populations with state-authorized violence. The subsequent explosion of digital criminal justice technology was therefore not merely the product of technical advancements in computing. If cities were not already committed to criminalizing and quarantining economically devalued populations, they would not dedicate obscene amounts of resources to building digitized architectures of policing and punishment.
Digitize and Punish traces the late twentieth and early twenty-first-century rise of digital computing technology in criminal justice through four core arguments. The first and central argument is that digital technology and its related sciences have helped extend the Wars on Crime and Drugs. The book shows how correctional supervision, detainment, and racial profiling quietly expanded through database systems, mobile devices, and wireless networks. It also shows how authorities have appealed to data science to justify the continuation of crime and drug war policies. The second argument is that IT corporations have become primary drivers of criminal justice digitization. The book emphasizes that this understudied fraction of capital, information capital, has turned criminal justice technoscience into a thriving industry. The eruption of criminal justice technology is not the result of the IT sector operating in a vacuum but rather the contingent outcome of information capital working in concert and sometimes at odds with state officials, university researchers, and civic organizations. The third argument is that the convergence of mass criminalization and smart cities is transforming geographies of carceral power. The book contends that smart city infrastructure, which is made up of cellular towers, cooling equipment, environmental sensors, fiber-optic cables, local area networks, mobile devices, server rooms, and smart cameras, is designed such that it allows cities to administer entire communities in ways that increasingly resemble correctional supervision. But this does not constitute a totalizing and inescapable reality for criminalized populations. It is, rather, a tendency in carceral management that warrants systematic attention. Finally, the book insists that a thorough critique of racialized governance must confront its sociotechnical dimension. On one hand, it places heavy emphasis on how the digitization of criminal justice reproduces social conditions where subjugation is rendered banal, fences and bars are made invisible, and racialized surveillance and punishment have found their way into our personal electronic devices. On the other hand, the book also draws attention to how contradictions immanent to the digitized carceral state open up new horizons for abolitionist revolt.
Racial Capitalism Meets Information Capitalism
The architects of today’s digitized infrastructures of criminalization and carceral management did not arrive in the dystopian form of Neuromancer’s Tessier-Ashpool or Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation. Instead, they came in the guise of public relations–friendly companies like International Business Machines (IBM) and Motorola Solutions and little known ones like Tyler Technologies and Fulcrum Biometrics. At the start of the millennium, Oracle Corporation supplied nearly three-quarters of the federal government’s database management systems. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft Corporation began to collaborate with cities to design and sell software for computer-operated surveillance, the profits of which it split with city governments. In addition to becoming fertile growth sectors for the IT industry, the prototyping of criminal justice technology has been largely subsidized by tax dollars. IT firms have siphoned billions in public grants through the Community Oriented Policing Services Office and the Office of Justice Programs to research and design products for the Wars on Crime and Drugs. In addition, public policy actively fuels the mass production of criminal justice technology. Taser International’s revenue grew nearly 75 percent less than a fiscal quarter following the launch of the Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate unveiled its Silicon Valley Innovation Program, which has funneled millions of dollars to dozens of small tech companies. Professional associations of tech executives have awarded criminal justice agencies with millions of dollars through competitions such as the International Data Group’s Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award and the International Association of Chiefs of Police/Motorola Webber Seavey Award in Law Enforcement. Moreover, an ever-expanding circuit of criminal justice technology conventions reinforce the connective tissue that binds the IT sector to mass criminalization.
While IT and social management are focal points of this study, prominent studies on power in the digital age offer only so much to the project. In these works, the negatively racialized poor are discussed in passing with reference to the “informational black holes” populated by “homeless, incarcerated, prostituted, criminalized, brutalized, stigmatized, sick, and illiterate persons” in the Global South and marginalized sectors of Global North cities. Preeminent sociologists maintain that these excluded areas are cut adrift from circuitries of information processing and hence are external to information economies. But this couldn’t be further from the truth in the impoverished sectors of U.S. cities. On the contrary, these areas find themselves increasingly immersed in networked infrastructures made up of audio sensors, datacenters, drones, electronic ankle monitors, geographic information systems, mobile digital terminals, server rooms, and smart surveillance cameras. They are constantly assessed through actuarial risk instruments, appraised through predictive analytics, digitally mapped and modeled, and monitored by smart cameras. And so long as the profit of technology corporations drives the proliferation of such technologies, criminalized populations present lucrative opportunities for IT capitalization.
A growing number of public critics offer a wealth of descriptive analysis on recent forms of computerized racism. These commentators show how discriminatory designs, human fallibility, and methodological inadequacies in criminal justice software effectuate racial inequalities. But while they illuminate negative effects of digitized racism, we are only beginning to grasp its positive functions in the wider social field. Criminal justice technoscience is a productive source for all manner of knowledge, privileges, strategies, subjectivities, tactics, technical innovations, and, not to be overlooked, profits. The lens of racial capitalism helps discern how interactions between racial subordination, technological advancement, and capital have come to constitute such a generative combination. This framework harkens back at least to the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, who showed the extraordinarily productive role of racialization in early phases of industrial capitalism. Du Bois discovered how the production of nonwhiteness reinforced rationales for the abduction and hyperexploitation of Africans and their descendants. He also uncovered how wealthy European Americans produced notions of whiteness to lure poor European Americans into blaming the calamities of capitalism on nonwhites. It was also Du Bois who revealed the lethal combinations of agricultural capitalism, industrial capitalism, and racial criminalization. Cedric Robinson demonstrated how racial differentiation played a constitutive role in constructing European capitalism. Robinson provided a vivid account of how mercantilist capitalists exploited entrenched racial, tribal, linguistic, and regional antagonisms to peg certain groups as cheap labor sources. These thinkers, along with a host of contemporary theorists of racial capitalism, provide a solid foundation to understand how information capitalists exploit the racialized antagonisms that define our new millennium.
By revisiting the history of mass criminalization from the standpoints of the IT companies, computer scientists, and technocrats, Digitize and Punish seeks to problematize some of the more prominent theories of social control in the digital age. The book contradicts Baudrillard’s theory of a simulated society where social reality is fully subordinated to or even replaced by code. It also problematizes Deleuze’s theory of a computerized control society where disciplinary enclosures (cubicles, factories, prisons) and modernity’s old social categories have lost their utility. This book is not about a new society of control; rather, it is about an ongoing form of racialized social management that is slowly mutating through digital technology. It is about how the carceral state uses technology in ways that do not supplant sovereign violence, discipline, or long-standing social differences but rather synthesizes them with the affordances of modern technology. It emphasizes how criminalization in the age of digital computation does not signify a new cultural logic so much as it performs an upgrade of entrenched modes of social differentiation and dominance. Modernity’s racial taxonomies are not vanishing through computerization; they have just been imported into data arrays. The digitization of criminal records allows authorities to essentialize individuals using well-worn ethnoracial categories. For example, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, Corrections Program Office, and Bureau of Justice Statistics have each stressed the importance of including demographic categories like race, Hispanic origin, religious affiliation, citizenship, and country of birth into offender database systems. Some criminal justice risk assessment software codes attributes like race, country of origin, and English proficiency as casual variables of criminal behavior (see chapter 2). In such instances, racial identities are not anachronisms but logic elements.
This book aims to disrupt the view that digitized social power signifies the decline of enclosures and sovereign violence. While electronic ankle bracelets might seem to represent the networked dispersion of the carceral apparatus, the bracelets are used to establish house arrest—most often in public housing. What appears dispersed at the level of individuals turns out to be clustered at the level of social groups. To compound things, the combination of criminal justice databases and the internet has made the stigma of criminal records indelible and virtually impossible to conceal. This establishes a punitive force field around formerly convicted subjects that restricts their access to capital, education, employment, housing, and welfare. In such instances, computer code is enrolled by authorities to continue the work of the Black Codes. Such power therefore can be understood not as the biopolitical control of dividuals but as the necropolitical management of social groups.
Racial State 2.0
While the eruption of digital technologies in the state has captivated social theorists of all types, its implications for the racial state are seldom scrutinized. This gap is significant, as the state plays a central role in classifying populations and articulating relations between them. One of the key functions of the modern nation-state is assigning racial classifications to groups of people in census tabulations, cartographies, and now database systems. In the United States, racial classifications have been used by courts, law enforcement, public officials, and military personnel to justify enslaving Africans and their descendants, confiscating indigenous territories, barring Chinese immigrants, interning Japanese citizens, incarcerating poor black and latinx peoples, and banning Muslims. Criminal justice agencies have been key actors in many of these projects. Contradictions between liberal democratic norms and state violence are rationalized by authorities and throughout the public sphere through stereotypes about nonwhite criminality. A core task of the present study is to shed light on how this indispensable part of the racial state, the criminal justice system, has adapted to the digital revolution.
The state—whether at the national, regional, or urban scale—is a site of constant conflict. Political theorists have shown that the state is best described as a network of apparatuses—census apparatuses, city planning apparatuses, criminal justice apparatuses, homeland security apparatuses, military apparatuses, public housing apparatuses, social security apparatuses—each of which possesses capacities to “capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control living beings.” To effectively institute policies, these apparatuses need knowledge—demographic knowledge, economic knowledge, spatial knowledge, and so on. While economists, criminologists, political scientists, sociologists, and technical experts have traditionally provided such knowledge, it is increasingly supplied by computer systems. Part of this book tells the story of how state officials mobilized computer science to produce tactical knowledge for crime and drug war efforts. It shows how the knowledge produced in this process is a priori political, as its purpose is to assist the implementation of specific policies. It also shows how academics and technocrats who justify crime and drug war policies through computer models are the latest generation of intellectuals to sanctify exclusionary state violence in the scientific vogue of the day.
Police command a great deal of attention in this book. Most influential works on mass criminalization in the United States rightfully focus on the colossal expansion of imprisonment. But the police are a central, if not understudied, part of this story, as they are the first point of contact between criminalized subjects and the carceral state. Moreover, the police have always been ahead of courts and corrections with respect to integrating technological innovation and collaborating with technology industries. Relations between police departments and IT capitalists have deepened considerably over the past three decades, which has created lucrative opportunities for the IT sector. To be sure, the constitutive role that police play in capital accumulation is well known. Marx saw policing as one extra-economic tactic among others used by capitalists to “protect their acquisitions” and emphasized how classical economists promoted the economic benefits conferred by the modern police department. In a similar vein, Michel Foucault and Mark Neocleous drew attention to how the Polizeistaat and its Polizeiwissenschaft were central to forging the conditions necessary for a free market society. Police administered the consumption, health, festivities, funerals, public infrastructure, and weddings of the propertyless populations in efforts to maintain healthy labor pools. During the rise of the market society, statistical data, which were invented by states to manage populations, became valuable resources for police.
The aforementioned analyses only scratch the surface of the police function in capital accumulation. When set upon negatively racialized populations, police are not necessarily programmed to administer welfare, mold subjects into docile balls of clay, or establish productive workforces. In the United States, the police represent an alien force that helps impose alien property regimes. In the United States, police are quite simply a military apparatus for whom the Posse Comitatus Act (1878) never applied. In United States–Mexico border zones, policing often involves blocking the entrance of racially stigmatized labor migrants or deliberately funneling them into lethal deserts. In U.S. cities, the focus of this book, police owe more to eighteenth-century slave patrols than to the Duchy of Burgundy, because logics inherited from slave plantations resonate in contemporary approaches to managing black populations. The present study chronicles how these logics are encoded in digital police mapping, crime forecasting, and surveillance.
The study also provides a history of cities’ efforts to replace human decision makers in the criminal justice system with computer algorithms. Algorithms developed for criminal justice agencies are not merely sets of rules in software, nor are they simply mathematical objects. They are, in sociologist Francesca Musiani’s words, artifacts of governance designed to achieve specific objectives. It is thus important to avoid searching for the racist dimension of the state’s algorithms inside of computing architectures. Such a formalist approach deflects attention from the concrete social relations in which those architectures were designed in the first place. It is not surprising that such formalism is common among the apologists of mass criminalization. If we only adjust the parameters, they tell us, criminal justice algorithms will be invulnerable to antiracist critiques. We are assured that race is not an important factor in newer crime prediction software because the software does not analyze demographic data, only geographic data. Predictive policing software company PredPol’s cofounder emphasizes that the company’s algorithms are based on statistical models designed to predict seismic activity, which means that they cannot introduce racial bias. But to be clear, our thesis is not that such tech companies cause racist law enforcement but that they capitalize on its ongoing legacy.
The Production of Criminal Justice Data
Criminal justice data, like all data, are not merely collected; they are produced. They are produced to serve practical ends, such as documentation or measurement for bureaucracies, individuals, or private companies. But if classification is the first step to structuring data, by what means are classificatory schemes determined? Who decides which categories are included—or excluded? If tabulating data and their derivatives comes second, what gets lost in the acts of filtering, reformatting, and sorting?
Questions like these were at one time of interest to police reformers, race reformers, social scientists, and welfare activists. But big data hype has grown such that these questions rarely enter into contemporary academic or public discussions about crime data. Yet while city officials and IT firms promote data analytics as a means of achieving scientifically neutral crime control decision-making, the data they crunch are overdetermined by politically charged policies and practices. It is consequently important to pay attention to relations between political projects and the way criminal justice data are produced, encoded, and used. It is also important to foreground the historical contexts that establish the conditions for criminal justice data production. These dynamics are increasingly important, since the future of policing, legal scholars tell us, “is data: crime data, personal data, gang data, associational data, locational data, environmental data, and a growing web of sensor and surveillance sources.”
The book is an attempt to clarify the historical significance behind the explosion of criminal justice data. Such an analysis departs from philosophical conceptions of data whose roots lay in electrical engineer and mathematician Claude Shannon’s information theory. Working for the telecommunications industry in the middle of the last century, Shannon devised a groundbreaking theory of communication that explored the statistical structure of messages. Meaning, or any other semantic property of communication, was immaterial from this perspective. All that mattered was formal structure. Shannon’s The Mathematical Theory of Communication established the epistemological foundations for the information revolution and a gold mine for the telecommunications industry. In addition to new information and communication industries, his theory spawned an intellectual heritage in which information, data, and knowledge were conceptualized in kind. But it is necessary to look beyond the formal properties of data and information to understand their political significance. Attention must be directed toward the actual conditions in which they are produced and put into action.
A bevy of social factors prefigure the types and amounts of data that are produced. Such factors are at once material and discursive. In materialist terms, the logics of capital valorization cannot help but impose themselves upon big data production in the context of a capitalist society. The devices that generate big data are commodities, which are produced in the first instance to yield profit. A goal of the book is to highlight how the propulsive force of valorization influences the mass production of criminal justice data and technology. In terms of discourse, digital data are increasingly important in representing, understanding, and organizing social reality. This discursive aspect comes on full display when data are organized into dataset matrices made up of rows and columns. In crime databases, the rows are populated by crime incidents reported by police. The total number of these incidents can never account for every act of lawbreaking in society. The number is constrained by who reports incidents, where patrols are located, and whom they choose to report. Moreover, the state acts as a gatekeeper over what qualifies as an incident. In point of fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has never developed a protocol for collecting data on incidents where police kill civilians. The columns in criminal justice databases are often populated by demographic classifications, for example, age, race, and sex. Racial attributes were first included in crime reports under the assumption that race was causally related to criminal behavior (see chapter 1). The overrepresentation of nonwhite groups in crime datasets continues to be exploited by white supremacists to indicate that nonwhites are more deviant, and hence deportable, displaceable, and disposable. But black radical theorists have shown that this overrepresentation of nonwhites actually exposes racism immanent to the criminal justice apparatus. These theorists show how statistics are manipulated and how white crime is excluded and sometimes erased from official datasets. Such a viewpoint is increasingly important in an age when data analytics legitimize racial governance.
Digitize and Punish shows that criminal justice datasets are matrices not only in the sense of being rectangular arrays of rows and columns. The datasets act like what Patricia Hill Collins terms matrices of domination, as they assist the state in its endless efforts to hierarchize populations. American studies theorist Lisa Lowe has demonstrated how state databases facilitated hierarchization in British Hong Kong. Lowe points to an 1844 English ordinance that required Chinese persons to register in databases as part of a public safety initiative that involved curfews, checkpoints, identification cards, and constant surveillance of living quarters. The registry made the colonial subject legible through attributes including pirate, political, radical, and vagrant—each of which was outside of waged labor markets.
Kim TallBear shows how private-sector companies benefit from building racialized databases. Specifically, she shows how IBM, Gateway Inc., and the National Geographic Society profited from a DNA database that stored genetic data about indigenous groups. Just like these databases, those belonging to the carceral state are designed to assist capital in generating considerable gains. Such datasets are never used to rationalize improving the material conditions to which criminalized populations are subjected but rather only to justify more surveillance, more patrolling, more control. Crime databases are used to formally mark individuals for banishment from democratic institutions and housing and rationalize policies of immersing their living quarters with patrol forces and surveillance cameras. Despite this political character, or better yet, because of it, the constant churn of criminal justice data is passionately consumed, picked apart, and debated throughout academia, entertainment, everyday conversation, government affairs, and think tanks. This book aims to disrupt the all too common practice of discussing these data apart from the material conditions from which they emerge.
Uploading Carceral Power into Urban Infrastructure
A point of emphasis in the book is that carceral power is silently spreading through infrastructures of cellular towers, datacenters, fiber-optic cables, smart sensors, and video cameras. Carceral functionality is becoming a key attribute of the smart city. This is not meant to say that the prison–industrial complex is being wholly supplanted or that it is bound to disintegrate. Even though incarceration rates have reached their lowest points in decades, the history of carceral management is not one of a linear development. Nor is it a history of a changeless institution. Carceral space has manifested in the form of extraordinary rendition sites, immigrant detention centers, and internment camps. This book traces an emergent form of carceral space that is characterized by machines that traverse human anatomy, public housing facilities, public schools, transportation systems, telecommunications systems, and street networks in U.S. cities. The book also emphasizes that the deeper telecommunications and IT firms entrench themselves in crime control policy, the more likely it is for these infrastructures to continue to expand.
The extension of carceral management through the Internet of Things (IoT), or networks of devices that communicate with each other, is greatly influenced by the movement of capital. On one hand, the carceral state’s circumscription of black and latinx communities was partly catalyzed by the flight of industry from cities, which rendered entire groups deskilled and unemployable. Decades of revelatory research demonstrates how cities turned to mass criminalization to manage the enormous economic, political, social, and medical problems arising from deindustrialization. On the other hand, in addition to outbound industrial capital, the carceral state’s digital architecture owes its existence to inbound information capital. The infrastructure sector has emerged as one of the most important sectors in finance, knowledge, and technology industries. IT companies have insinuated themselves in seemingly all facets of urban life, including government agencies, private businesses, social networks, transportation systems, workplaces, and infrastructure. These companies have also nestled their way into criminal justice administration, which is reshaping geographies of carceral governance.
A central argument in this book is that the criminal justice system’s smart infrastructure is creating new geometries of carceral space. On one hand, carceral space is incredibly centralized. Extraordinary rendition sites, detention centers, jails, and prisons, which are designed to monitor, discipline, governmentalize, punish, and sometimes execute or torture those caught within their grasp, are a few examples. IT firms have penetrated these spaces. For instance, technology corporations sell geographic information systems to help custodial authorities organize cell arrangements according to demographic categories, predict inmate movements and behaviors, and identify potential escape routes (see chapter 2). Yet, on the other hand, carceral space is incredibly decentralized. Carceral geographers highlight the elaborate logistics required to shuttle humans, information, and resources across prison facilities and entire landscapes. Architects have characterized rural prison facilities as urban exostructures, as they provide relief to the city’s overburdened criminal justice apparatus. Technology firms have also infiltrated this decentralized dimension of carceral management. Wireless networks of smart cameras, phones, sensors, and tablets extend the reach of the carceral system. At the scale of the city, smart cameras and environmental sensors send alerts to patrol vehicles dispersed throughout street networks. On regional scales, real-time crime centers receive data and transmit them throughout states and, increasingly, between them. Owing to their portability, criminal justice technologies also circulate on international scales. Today there exists a global market for public security technology that traverses capitalist, communist, and socialist nations. On yet a grander scale, electronic forms of monitoring probationers depend on Global Positioning System satellites, which extend the reach of carceral technology all the way into low Earth orbit.
Taking the carceral state apart and making it less recognizable through the lens of smart infrastructure helps short-circuit illusions that it is neatly bounded in terms of geography and functionality. While the illusion of a monolithic carceral Leviathan echoes modern theories of the state that never seem to fade away, carceral statecraft is an open, dynamic, and variegated sociotechnical process of quarantining human beings. As such, our understanding of carceral state power, Katherine Beckett and Naomi Murakawa observe, “must be as capacious, complex, and adaptive as the policies and institutions involved in it.” The present study insists that analysis of this power’s sociotechnical substrate is also necessary to understand carceral conditions in the twenty-first century.
Design of the Book
Digitize and Punish retells the history of mass criminalization by focusing on technology corporations and technology bureaus. The book’s objects of analysis are not criminalized communities but rather the computer programmers, corporate-bureaucratic intellectuals, state officials, and technologists who update the tools that criminalize them. It tells untold stories of the contingencies, failed projects, unintended consequences, and technical breakthroughs involved in constructing the digitized carceral state. It illustrates how these efforts have simultaneously augmented the carceral state and created new avenues of subverting it.
This project employs an intersectional approach to understand the nexus of carceral power, racism, and IT capital. The perspective was notably captured by the Combahee River Collective and Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who demonstrated the inadequacies of understanding social hierarchy through one measure, or axis of division. As such, structural analysis of the relations between racial difference, technological development, and political economic mutation is necessary to understand the relevant factors in racial criminalization in the digital age. The question is not if racial criminalization behaves in a structural manner but rather how it maintains, if not increases, its structural integrity from generation to generation. This book therefore seeks to explain how information capital exploited the surge of racial criminalization near the end of the last century and, at the same time, how racial criminalization was exploited by the rise of information technology.
The book provides both a broad and grounded view of the computer technology’s introduction to the Wars on Crime and Drugs. It takes a multiscalar approach to understanding how events on national, urban, and local levels combined to influence the development of criminal justice technoscience. A great deal of the study is devoted to analyzing these dynamics in New York City and Chicago, as the multiscalar forces at play are especially legible in these cities. In academic circles, media, and public discourse, New York City is often portrayed as the vanguard of data-driven policing. Its data-driven administrative process, CompStat, is celebrated as having revolutionized policing around the world. Political power is uniquely concentrated in the city’s Mayor’s Office, which maintains a national and sometimes international profile. The city council’s power is organized within a borough system, which provides a unique terrain for studying how diverse interests that drive digitized criminal justice converge. The city also offers a paradigmatic example of racialized deproletarianization and criminalization under conditions of technological change. What is more, New Yorkers have a rich history of contesting racialized police violence, including, but not limited to, the Young Lords, the Justice Committee, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the October 22 Coalition, and Make the Road on the grassroots level and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights. Chicago offers an alternative case for this study. Its political landscape is different, where power is divided between a balkanized aldermanic system, the hypermarginalized Black Belt, and strong gubernatorial authority. Chicago has also pioneered the application of science and technologies in criminal justice. The Chicago Police Department was the first to use telegraph and telephone systems that linked police call boxes to precinct houses. The city also resides in Illinois, one of the first states to apply actuarial methods to parole and probation procedures, which presaged today’s application of computerized risk instruments.
The first chapter, “Computation and Criminalization,” tracks the history of calculation and computing technology in the criminal justice system and criminological thought. Beginning during the second Industrial Revolution, it charts the contingent bloc of industrial firms, nativists, police scientists, progressives, quantitative social scientists, and social reformers who influenced how urban crime is computed. The chapter explores how digital computers quietly penetrated criminal justice administration and criminological knowledge production as the War on Crime began and how these developments codified the logics, policies, and practices central to the war in languages commensurate with digital computing. The second chapter, “Dreams of Digital Carceral Power,” investigates the expansive role that computer technology played in the rise of mass incarceration. It examines how each branch of criminal justice conceptualized the benefits of computers and how this transformed understandings and operations of carceral management in turn. “A Fully Automated Police Apparatus” is chapter 3. The chapter provides a detailed account of the spread of computer technology in police departments in New York City and Chicago. It directs attention to how each process drew together a new bloc of city officials, criminal justice personnel, IT companies, and university scientists determined to create a police apparatus that could prevent crime from happening. The fourth chapter, “Punishment in the Network Form,” concentrates on the intersection of punishment and wireless technology. The chapter insists that this interface exacerbates penal stigma and allows cities to enroll the public to monitor and sanction offenders and ex-offenders. The fifth chapter, “How to Program a Carceral City,” examines the convergence of criminal justice and smart cities, shifting attention to the criminal justice system’s steady buildup of smart cameras, environmental sensors, and alarm systems and how this gave rise to its newest branch, crime datacenters. Chapter 5 concludes by considering how the rapid-fire spread of these datacenters is transforming geographies of carceral power. The conclusion, titled “Viral Abolition,” explores struggles against the digital extension of the carceral apparatus. It analyzes instances when criminal justice data infrastructures have been subverted, challenged, and turned into liabilities by oppositional forces. It highlights how these counterforces spread virally in ways that are creating conditions to halt the perpetuation of the crime and drug wars through digital networks.