Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Amy Wilkins

Second Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Third Advisor

Christina Sue

Fourth Advisor

Patti Adler

Fifth Advisor

Allison McKim


Although the recent criminological literature has introduced rich, critical analyses of the incarceration boom in the United States, certain issues, such as the criminalization of women, have been historically ignored. This dissertation fills that gap by blending an analysis of gendered, raced, and classed inequalities with crime control systems, shedding light on the disparate effects on marginalized women. Additionally, my work contributes to the scholarship on the net-widening effect of the carceral state. As the U.S. shifts its policies towards decriminalization and decarceration in instances of minor nonviolent drug offenses, controlling crime becomes a task that is fulfilled by community-based agencies, such as non-profit organizations. My research is concerned with noncriminal processing sites of carcerality, such as mandated rehabilitation programs, to analyze the raced, classed, and gendered ways in which neoliberal punitive logics discursively map on to therapy narratives and practices.

My dissertation is a critical feminist ethnography of a rehabilitation program for criminalized women. I use participant-observation, in-depth interviews, and focus group data to weave together a multi-layered Foucauldian analysis that explores how care workers and program clients use therapeutic narratives in gendered ways to construct and contest model neoliberal citizenship. I find that modern therapeutics discursively centers meritocratic notions of “choice” and “self-empowerment,” which consequently governs marginality on the basis of race, class, gender, and ability. I analyze the ways that care workers strategically use an “alternative” organizational identity to skirt the realities of the center’s low success rates. In their attempts to deliver rehabilitative programming, care workers interpret clients’ material failures as evidence of underlying emotional problems. I also analyze the voices of criminalized women to demonstrate how they replicate, accommodate, and/or refute meta-narratives from claimsmakers. I find that, although criminalized women understand their collective disempowerment, they feel unable to challenge structural constraints because of the web of exclusionary policies that produces social precarity. My dissertation contributes to the literature on the culture of punishment by illustrating the interdependency between rehabilitation and punishment practices in a neoliberal society. I argue that community-based rehabilitation centers risk perpetuating the exclusionary and punitive approaches espoused by the criminal processing system.