After decades of the American “war on drugs” and relentless prison expansion, political officials are finally challenging mass incarceration. Many point to an apparently promising solution to reduce the prison population: addiction treatment.
In Addicted to Rehab, Bard College sociologist Allison McKim gives an in-depth and innovative ethnographic account of two such rehab programs for women, one located in the criminal justice system and one located in the private healthcare system—two very different ways of defining and treating addiction. McKim’s book shows how addiction rehab reflects the race, class, and gender politics of the punitive turn. As a result, addiction has become a racialized category that has reorganized the link between punishment and welfare provision. While reformers hope that treatment will offer an alternative to punishment and help women, McKim argues that the framework of addiction further stigmatizes criminalized women and undermines our capacity to challenge gendered subordination. Her study ultimately reveals a two-tiered system, bifurcated by race and class.