Critical Data Studies A Cross-College Collaboration

Glossary: Carcerality

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “carceral” is defined as “of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison” (Webster). However, the carceral system has been extended outside of physical prison walls and into minoritized communities in the form of predictive policing. Predictive policing uses past data to predict where crime might occur and labels specific areas as “high-risk”. Proprietary predictive policing software like PredPol is based on historical data which shows the areas where crime is more likely to happen (Scannel, 108). Proponents of such software claim that by relying solely on statistics and machine learning to predict where and when crime will occur, problems such as racial bias in America’s law enforcement can be solved. However, as Ruha Benjamin highlights in Race After Technology, race itself is a technology and we can never separate race and racism from law enforcement. Many community members are threatened, designating the people within them to be inherently considered suspects (Miller 96). However, there is a greater embedded risk: by using such systems racism could reinforce itself and therefore become automated. The core critique of predictive policing is that it does not predict crime, but rather it actively plays a role in determining it, which predestines targeted communities for imprisonment and effectively puts whole class of individuals in a constant state of carceration, without having committed a crime. The software is indeed “precise”, but the risk is not equally distributed, in prejudice of the historically unfavored (Miller 95). Seemingly innovative technologies such as crime prediction software are another extension of the carceral state into the lives of people of color. Such technologies expand carcerality by rendering the “jail” omnipresent yet invisible to the privileged eye. Ultimately, the inaccuracies presented by the carceral system exacerbate the problem of racial injustice, which impact the ability of minoritized communities to reach a higher socioeconomic level in society.



Miller, Andrea. (2019). “Shadows of War, Traces of Policing: The Weaponization of Space and the Sensible in Preemption”, Chapter 4 (in Benjamin), pgs. 85-106.

Scannel, R. Joshua. (2019). “This Is Not Minority Report: Predictive Policing and Population Racism,” Chapter 5 (in Benjamin), pgs. 107-129.

Webster, Noah.  (1963). “Carceral.” New Collegiate Dictionary. A Merriam-Webster, G. & C. Merriam Co.


Student Editors: Nikita Gerard, Antonio Domínguez Palomar, Jack Harber and Anirudh Sivarajan. We would like to thank additional student editors who would like to remain anonymous for their contributions.