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Noon Edition

Family Policing

Micol Seigel

Activist and scholar Micol Seigel (Micol Seigel)

The Prison in 12 Landscapes is a documentary that came out in 2016. It’s a beautiful film. Intimate interviews, lush landscapes, and deep attention to the complexity of people’s lives, from cities to small rural towns. If it wasn’t in the title, it could take a while to realize that its central topic is prisons, and how they shape life far beyond their walls. The prison itself – the sprawling complex of buildings surrounded by fences, razor wire, guards – is just part of the prison system. There are also police and courts. County jails. That’s still just what we can see. Like an iceberg, the system of incarceration has a whole lot more going on under the surface. But that’s what keeps it afloat.

Micol Seigel is an activist, scholar, and teacher who’s been studying this carceral system for a long time. Her most recent book, Violence Work, looks at how police and policing are a primary vector of violence enforced and enacted by the state – which is to say, governments. But lately she’s been focused on another part of this carceral iceberg. One that is maybe less obviously part of the same system. That’s the foster care system. That might come as a bit of a surprise. We think of foster parents as maybe the holiest of parents, doing that hard work of taking in kids they’ve never met before, who desperately need a place to go. A home.

But there’s a larger system at play. On this week’s Inner States, Micol describes how the foster system, and the Department of Child Services that helps run it, is also totally intertwined with the broader system of policing in this country. That doesn’t mean Micol is saying all foster parents are bad people. Just that they – and really, all of us – are part of a bigger carceral system that separates people from their communities, their families, and, sometimes, children from their parents. As a foster and adoptive parent herself, Micol has become deeply familiar with this system.


Further Reading

Micol referenced many books during our conversation. Some made it into the published episode, some didn't. This is a complete list, plus a podcast recommendation of my own.

Laura Briggs, Taking Children: A History of American Terror (2021)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975)

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (2007)

Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (2019)

Tony Platt, The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency (1969)

Dorothy Roberts, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families – and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World (2022)

Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016)

This Land (podcast), Season 2: The Crooked Media series, hosted by Native journalist Rebecca Nagle, looks into how the far right is using Native children, via a critical adoption dispute in Texas, to destroy American Indian tribes from within.



Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramón Monrás-Sender.


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