Gender and Critical Drug Studies: The Gendered Origins of Privatized Prison Drug Treatment

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Jill McCorkel, associate professor of sociology ad criminology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In it, she explores the origins of how drug treatment and rehabilitation programs entered private prisons for women. Her full article appears in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

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Dr. Jill McCorkel

I was recently in a taxi on my way to a speaking engagement in Dublin, Ireland. When the driver asked me what I’d be discussing, I told him I research prison privatization. “Ahh, yes,” he said, “the corporations run the American prisons and that’s why you have such a problem over there. They want everyone in prison. More prisoners, more profit!”

Although legal scholars would likely challenge his claim on the grounds that comparatively few prisoners in the U.S. are held in private prisons, his comments are not entirely off base. Over the last 30 years, private companies have become increasingly influential players in the American prison system. The source of their ascendancy is not private prisons. Rather, it is in the provision of a vast array of services ranging from cafeteria food to phone cards, medical care to behavioral health programming. Private companies contract with local, state, and federal authorities to provide these services in publicly managed prisons, jails, and community-based correctional facilities. The contracts are a lucrative source of profit and require little in the way of oversight. The duration and scope of privatized correctional services vary, but among the most profitable are contracts that involve the provision of drug treatment programming to prisoners, parolees, and pretrial detentioners. Drug treatment and related rehabilitative services are a multi-billion dollar (USD) a year industry. In my article for the special issue of Contemporary Drug Problems, I explore the origins of privatized, prison-based drug treatment. I argue that during the War on Drugs, women’s prisons were utilized as testing grounds for private companies interested in getting into the expanding business of drug rehab.

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Gender and Critical Drug Studies: Reproducing Female Vulnerability in Gendered Drug Discourse

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Helen Keane, associate professor and head of the School of Sociology at Australian National University in Canberra. In it, she explores more about her article on perceptions of female vulnerability, especially in terms of drug use, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

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Helen Keane

Female vulnerability is a persistent theme of medical, public health, and popular discourses on drug use. Women have been understood as biologically, socially, and morally vulnerable to the harms of substance use, and the blurred boundaries of these categories have acted to exacerbate the naturalization of women as at risk from drugs. Men have higher rates of drug use than women, but they are rarely interpreted as suffering from an inherent vulnerability to harm. Instead their use is associated with risk-taking.

Discourses of vulnerability and norms of gendered responsibility for familial and social wellbeing combine to produce women’s drug use as more deviant and disordered than men’s use. In the figure of the pregnant or maternal drug user, the vulnerability of women is converted into a threatening capacity to produce harm. Female biology is contrasted with an unmarked male norm and viewed as more unstable and more prone to damage (in a set of tropes focused on reproduction and reminiscent of Victorian medicine). The vision of unruly drug-using women and the social disorder they produce is one of the “governing mentalities” of drug policy, to use Nancy Campbell’s term [1].

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Gender and Critical Drug Studies: A Woman Formed the First Cartel?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. In it, she explores more about her article on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, a contemporary female leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

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Elaine Carey

To analyze contemporary female leaders of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, I focused on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, also known as “Ma Baker,” because she represents a historical continuity of the women in the drug trade.  More significantly, however, her organization represents how the history of drugs responds to various contingent and changing factors and events.

Buendía formed a powerful familial-based drug trafficking organization (DTO) that grew the internal cocaine trade in Mexico. She and her daughters Marcela Gabriela, Nadia Isabel, and Norma Patricia, along with extended family and sons-in-laws, built a “narcomenudeo” network in the working class suburb of Ciudad Neza.  There, the Buendía became instrumental to other DTOs by responding to changing demand patterns in the US that shifted from cocaine to heroin. This shift was, in part, due to the over prescription of opioids by medical doctors which triggered a wide spread heroin epidemic.

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SHAD Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies

Editor’s Note: The newest issue of the Alcohol and Drug History Society’s journal, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, or SHAD, is a special edition, joined with the journal Contemporary Drug Problems. It focuses specifically on gender and critical drug studies. Two of SHAD’s newest co-editors, Nancy Campbell and David Herzberg, provide an introduction to the issue here, and over the next few weeks we’re going to feature some of the issue’s authors giving insights into their work. Enjoy! 

trafficThe 2000 film “Traffic” is harshly critical of American drug policy as ineffective, corrupt, and cruel.  Among the many stories it traces is the ascent of DEA chief Robert Wakefield (played by Michael Douglas) to the position of Drug Czar. Just as Wakefield reaches the apex of his career as an anti-drug warrior, his daughter Caroline descends from recreational drug use into “hard core” heroin addiction.  

Caroline, blonde and so white as to be almost luminescent, begins with casual drug use with other white friends in upscale settings.  As her use becomes more serious, the movie follows her to meaner streets and more diverse companions. When she finally fully succumbs to addiction, she has become a sex worker in an African American neighborhood in the employ of a young, heavily muscled, dark-skinned dealer.

We all immediately recognize these embarrassing racial stereotypes—that’s why they so efficiently signal Caroline’s decline.  And thanks to a wealth of vibrant scholarship that has revealed the racial dynamics of American drug policies, we are likely to be enraged by the calculated conflation of addiction, degradation, and blackness in a supposedly rebellious film.  Shouldn’t Steven Soderbergh (the director) know better? But racialized tropes are so deeply built into drug-war culture that their absence would be surprising even in a critical vehicle like “Traffic.”

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Hidden Figures of Drug History: Joan Ganz Cooney

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in our new Hidden Figures of Drug History series, with more to come in the future. Next week Points will feature more exciting news about drug and alcohol history in the media, as well as a great recap of LSD use in New York City in the 1960s. Enjoy this post and come back next week for more!

Image result for marihuana a signal of misunderstandingThere are few subjects I like writing about more than the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse’s 1972 report, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” Also known as the Shafer Commission, the group’s report enlivened my book Grass Roots, and I’ve continued to mine it for material on how we can understand the Trump administration’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic today.

But there’s something of particular interest for those who want to understand the role gender has long played in American drug history within this report as well.  And that’s a name that appears within the list of the commission’s thirteen members, nine of whom were appointed by President Richard Nixon, and four of whom were senators and members of Congress. 

And that name is Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney.

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Hidden Figures of Drug History: Lenore Kandel (1932-2009)

Editor’s Note: As a working mother of an active toddler, I don’t  have a lot of time to keep up with popular culture. But a few months ago my husband and I finally watched Hidden Figures. The movie is well done, and it got me thinking. First of all, is there anything Janelle Monae can’t do? And second, what if we applied this same idea – revealing the hidden and important roles of women – to our own field of drug and alcohol history?

And voila – Hidden Figures of Drug History was born. Today’s post is the first installment, in which we discuss Lenore Kandel, a too-often ignored leader of the counterculture and Beat movements. Enjoy!

“When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” – Lenore Kandel

Kandel, who died in San Francisco in 2009 at the age of 77 from complications of lung cancer, was an uncommon woman in both the Beat and hippie countercultures. A peer and a participant rather than a girlfriend or a muse, Kandel was one of the strongest, most poetic, and perhaps the most frankly sexual voice of the female experience of San Francisco in the 1960s. Though she published only two books of poetry during her lifetime and was virtually unheard of for nearly thirty years preceding her death, her small body of work attracted both critical and popular acclaim, as well as wide-ranging legal ramifications. Nonetheless, a thorough understanding of the artistic movement of the 1960s is simply incomplete without considering her poetic, political, and psychedelic contributions. Lenore Kandel was a pioneer, challenging conventions in the realms of female artistry, literature, and the fight against censorship. The countercultural canon is incomplete without her.

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Gendering Reefer Madness

In their 2011 book, Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World, Nancy Campbell and Elizabeth Ettorre problematize the male-centric knowledges that frame addiction research and treatment programs. They call for a more inclusive treatment strategy that does not consider the neurochemical “male brain” the baseline for recovery. According to the authors, these “epistemologies of ignorance” limit, even eliminate, the useful options available for female addicts.

In many similar ways, epistemologies of ignorance also manifest in the historical record of marijuana users in the 1930s. Perhaps “ignorance” is not quite the right term, even as its effects were just as restrictive, especially for women users in during the decade. But due to the American obsession with gender and sexual normativity during this period, both female and male users (as well as male and female anti-marijuana activists) occupied mutually exclusive discursive spaces from which two separate gendered narratives about marijuana use emerged. Reading past these stereotypes though, utilizing Michelle McClellan’s notion of “damp feminism” (here, and here), historians can make use of these highly problematic portrayals of female marijuana users from this period.

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