“The sticky web of carcerality extends even further, into the everyday lives of those who are purportedly free, wrapping around hospitals, schools, banks, social service agencies, humanitarian organizations, shopping malls, and the digital service economy.11 Technology is not just a bystander that happens to be at the scene of the crime; it actually aids and abets the process by which carcerality penetrates social life.” (Captivating Technology race, carceral technoscience, and liberatory imagination in everyday life)
This quote from Ruha Benjamin serves as a reminder of how influential technology is in everyday process, a phenomenon that continues to expand unseen. We have become so captivated by the brick-and-mortar prison that we often forget the way in which the prison extends its reach, using technology as a conduit to achieve such a task in the 21st century.
Ruha Benjamin, a black woman sociologist and Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, brings a new perspective to the carceral system as cybernetic (technological) forms of management continue the racialized violence of the status quo. Algorithms and predictions model enable the system to pinpoint exactly who is targeted, channeling systemic racism in unregulatableable ways. Think of technologies like Dashcams, GPS trackers, robot cranes, ankle bracelets. All of these are examples in which AI brings with it a new era of violence that Benjamin’s philosophy can effectively shed light on.
This additionally exemplifies the shift towards private corporations as a means to extend government oversight. Companies like Palantir developing predictive policing software, Boeing and Anduril Industries being awarded border contracts during the Obama years to build a high-tech virtual border for the US and development of border autonomous tanks, and other big tech giants demonstrates an ongoing shift that most legal scholars aren’t accounting for. And one of the most potent examples, private prisons, further prove this point.
Benjamin’s analysis on this historical transformation, or what she terms the “New Jim Code”, drawing from Derrick A. Bell and Frantz Fanon, traces this to another manifestation of antiblack racism, a concept that seems to plague all criminal justice studies. However, extending this to technology as well will reveal the tools that the system will utilize, enabling a wave of caution to be brought about that can challenge the system’s reach. While surveillance may be inevitable to some extend as we become more reliant on algorithmic processes, it’s vital, according to Benjamin’s work, to be wary of the manners in which “neutral” policies can bring about xenophobic results within technology.