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Sept. 4, 2018

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Community Health

My book, Institutional Violence and Disability: Punishing Conditions, was released by Routledge in August 2018. This book, co-authored by Dr. Jen Rinaldi, documents how and why violence is a ubiquitous trait of institutions designed to care for vulnerable people. This book is based on the findings of a large participatory arts-based project titled “Recounting Huronia,” funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada. I was the principal investigator. Throughout this project, the research team worked alongside survivors of the Huronia Regional Centre: a now-closed institution designed to warehouse people with intellectual disabilities. We gathered many stories from people who survived life in Huronia, which was an extremely violent place. Through this research we came to understand that violence is inherent to some kinds of institutions – particularly those that care for devalued persons, are socially or geographically isolated, are run on an efficiency model, and that have a larger goal of individual or social reform. Our major message in this book is that violence and institutionalized care are often not separable – violence is coded into the DNA of institutional life.

The most difficult and shocking part of this project was coming to learn both the depth and breadth of emotional, physical and sexual violence endured by those incarcerated at places like Huronia. This violence was pervasive, routine and, in some cases, sadistic. Collecting these stories was horrifying, particularly as we understand that they came from places designed to provide the best care available to people with disabilities. We hope that people who read the book come away with a clearer picture of institutional life and an analysis of why care institutions such as Huronia should not exist. It is important to us that people read these survivors stories and know the impacts that government policies had on vulnerable people. We hope that people learn from these stories.

Our work now is to focus our attention on the institutions built to house immigrant children and families in the United States. These facilities bear many of the troubling hallmarks of the institutions we have studied previously, and documented in our book. We are deeply concerned that those being incarcerated under the “zero tolerance” policy will face the kind of violence endured by so many other incarcerated people. We hope that our work can add to an informed conversation about the perils of incarceration within care organizations.

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