Jeremy Levenson

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Los Angeles, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9913

Approve Date

October 24, 2019

Project Title

Levenson, Jeremy (California, Los Angeles, U. of) "Carceral Care: Jail Reform in LA County"

JEREMY LEVENSON, then a graduate student at University of California, Los Angeles, California, was awarded funding in October 2019 to aid research on “Carceral Care: Jail Reform in LA County,” supervised by Dr. Philippe Bourgois. In 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced its plan to resolve its long-standing jail mental health crisis with a paradigm-changing “care first, jail last” approach. This plan promoted and advanced predominantly legal and medical interventions, such as diversion and other alternatives to incarceration programming, as strategies for decarceration. However, the jail mental health crisis also offered opportunities for incarcerated people within the jail. Through ethnographic research within the LA jails, this projects ethnographically explores how a group of incarcerated people envisioned and developed a program wherein they work as “mental health assistants,” supporting the jail’s mental health service and their peers. Their program, driven by the vision and labor of incarcerated caregivers and reliant on the cooperation of the custodial authorities, has successfully reduced the use of restraints and inmate self-directed violence and tripled in size during the pandemic. This project — retitled “Breaking the Chains from Inside: The Un-Making of Jail Mental Health”– explores the entangled relationships making this success possible, situating the program within the wider institutional and extra-institutional context of care, abandonment and violence. It also considers what this exceptional program reveals about the everyday articulation of normalization and disciplinary power with carceral violence and its implications for movements for decarceration and social transformation.