With Conviction: The Politics of Criminal Records Reform
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While scholars have charted the extent of exclusions people with criminal convictions face amidst an expanding carceral state, no studies have examined legal and political claims for the restoration of civil rights for people with criminal convictions. This thesis addresses that gap by examining how advocates in Seattle have mobilized to expand legal protections for people with criminal records. Drawing on non-participant observation, interviews and archival data, I investigate how reformers and opponents construct political claims about the meanings of a criminal record and the duties of the state and the private market in rolling back mass incarceration. I show that although crime clashes with ideas of choice and deservingness central to rights, advocates were able to construct people with records as morally deserving subjects through the language of fair chances and structural critiques of the criminal justice system. While these claims were successful in positioning people with records as worthy of government protection, they failed to convince opponents that a conviction does not signal greater risk. This case suggests that although there is political space for criminal records reform, these efforts may be fundamentally limited by tension between the moral qualifications of civil rights claimants and the risk-centric logic of the market.
- Sociology