Assoc. Prof. Reuben Jonathan Miller, a famend sociologist who research mass incarceration and the way it shapes individuals’s lives, has been awarded a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship.
Awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Basis, the distinguished fellowship acknowledges people from throughout disciplines who “present distinctive creativity of their work.” As one in every of this year’s 25 MacArthur fellows, Miller will obtain a no-strings-attached grant of $800,000 over 5 years to assist inventive pursuits.
Miller joins greater than 50 individuals related to UChicago to have gained a MacArthur Fellowship. Additionally among the many 2022 class is Amanda Williams, Lab’92, a Chicago-based artist and architect.
“I’ve, in fact, dreamed that I’d win the lottery. I’ve additionally dreamt that someone would hand me a deed to a brand new home. This was type of on that degree,” mentioned Miller, AM’07, a scholar within the Crown Household Faculty of Social Work, Coverage, and Apply and the American Bar Basis. “To get the decision, it was unimaginable. Simply unimaginable.”
Crime and punishment
In america, one in two individuals have a member of the family who has been incarcerated; for Black Individuals and different communities of colour, that quantity is even larger. Miller argues that the legal justice system harms these in poverty, and is very laborious for Black individuals. “But it surely’s not only a Black downside,” Miller mentioned. “One other method that racism works is that it hides the results of unhealthy authorities coverage.”
With a view to probe on the insurance policies and establishments that form our justice system, Miller focuses on the human toll of mass incarceration—the long-term penalties on individuals who’ve served time and the family members who take care of them.
“I research individuals who we’ve taught ourselves to concern, and we taught ourselves to miss,” Miller mentioned. “I do not suppose we give sufficient thought to the best way to incorporate individuals who’ve made errors again into the social material of our nation.”
How jail lives on in individuals
Annually greater than half 1,000,000 Individuals are launched from jail. Nonetheless, Miller argues, the results of incarceration linger even in “freedom.”
Thousands and thousands of previously incarcerated individuals should navigate 1000’s of legal guidelines and insurance policies that restrict their skill to totally take part in society—proscribing them from full citizenship and condemning them to life on the outskirts of society. Miller discovered that many individuals dwelling with legal information discover it troublesome or unimaginable to seek out employment, vote or safe secure housing.
“The jail lives on via the individuals who’ve been convicted lengthy after they full their sentences,” Miller writes in his first guide Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration. “It lives on via the grandmothers, lovers and youngsters compelled to share their burdens as a result of they’re by no means actually allowed to pay their so-called debt to society.”
As a former Prepare dinner County Jail chaplain, Miller noticed the “afterlife” of mass incarceration first hand. For 15 years, he adopted the lives of these navigating the carceral system in cities throughout the U.S., together with Chicago and Detroit. Miller hung out with the households, companions and mates of previously incarcerated individuals to grasp the long-lasting burden of a jail sentence. In the course of the course of his analysis, Miller’s personal brother entered the jail system.
In saying Miller in its 2022 class of fellows, the MacArthur Basis acknowledged the intimate nature of Miller’s work.
“Fairly than separating his analysis from his private experiences, Miller sees his expertise as an asset,” the Basis wrote. “It permits him to convey extra powerfully the total humanity of his topics and the complicated social realities wherein they’re embedded. The ensuing immersive work is a component memoir and half sociological research of the intersection of the legal justice system with race and poverty.”
This proximity, an strategy Miller calls “the sociology of being collectively,” helps him push again in opposition to the standard distance taught in social science analysis. In actual fact, he argues that it’s this very proximity that’s wanted for change.
“I would like individuals to know what it’s wish to stay with the mark of a legal document, what it’s like to like somebody who has a legal document,” Miller mentioned. “I imagine coverage options can’t be provided if we don’t permit that have into the mannequin.”
The work continues
The prize will assist assist Miller’s future analysis, that are two large-scale worldwide initiatives. The primary is a research of violence: how we perceive it, deploy it and what we do to individuals our society has labeled “violent.” As a part of the challenge, Miller is conducting lots of of interviews with people convicted of violent crimes or recognized as prone to violent habits.
The second, associated challenge research international Black emancipation. “I am inquisitive about how international locations that trusted slavery recovered from the lack of that establishment,” Miller mentioned. “And what occurred to free Black individuals and the various poor employees, whom we’d name white immediately, that had been drawn into the slave financial system of these international locations.”
For Miller, a educated social employee, the fellowship is an acknowledgement of labor historically taken on by ladies and other people of colour.
“It should shine a light-weight on the significance of parents who’re within the trenches doing this type of work,” he mentioned, “from activists and organizers, to lecturers and on a regular basis social service suppliers.”