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Recent WLR Forward Articles

  • Unraveling Stategraft: Ending Criminal Administrative Fees in California

    In California, like every other state, courts charge administrative fees to people who come into contact with the criminal legal system. As recently as 2020, California authorized over 90 different criminal administrative fees. Since 2019, a coalition of advocacy groups known as Debt Free Justice California have pushed legislation to reduce that number in half by successfully raising questions about the legal and policy rationales for wealth extraction via monetary sanctions like fees.

  • Race, the Criminal Legal System, and Stategraft: The California Racial Justice Act (2020)

    After decades of unabated growth in mass incarceration, the number of incarcerated adults began to decline following the Great Recession. Changes in sentencing, policing, pre-trial diversion, and the recategorization of offense levels, among other strategies, helped reduce the number of persons under carceral control. While the lifetime risks of incarceration and imprisonment have declined from all-time highs, the routine imposition of monetary sanctions (fines, fees, court costs, penalty assessments, etc.) have continued to proliferate in the criminal legal system. The imposition of these monetary sanctions represents an immediately recognizable form of stategraft. In this essay, we argue that mass incarceration, and its attendant racial disparities in sentencing, is a form of stategraft that, in some cases, illegally transfers predominantly Black, Latine, and poor white bodies from control of oneself to control of the state. In doing so, the state appropriates the differential time and labor-power of persons under carceral control to illegally profit from racial inequality in mass incarceration and sentencing disparities.

  • Automated Stategraft: Faulty Programming and Improper Collections in Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Program

    A consistent critique about public benefits programs is the idea that they may be ripe for fraud. To combat this concern, states contract with third-party companies to develop coding for their programs to weed out potential bad actors. However, disasters have followed public benefits programs’ attempts to create and use automated systems to process claims across the country, especially in the unemployment insurance context. But the very efforts aimed at fraud prevention can create fraud. What follows is a Case Study of one of the more egregious examples of this counter-intuitive truth in Michigan. Automation of state UI systems may have been applied with good intentions, yet punitive rules, an utter lack of oversight, and a naïve faith in technology have left more state-initiated fraud in its wake than had ever actually existed before the program. Michigan was among the first states to “modernize” their entire unemployment insurance system through a contract with a third-party company. As a result of over-calibrated, faulty algorithmic programming, the system wrongly charged tens of thousands of claimants as “fraudsters” and billed and collected exorbitant amounts of money that the state had no evidence was actually owed.

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