Justice for Sale: The Rhetoric of For Profit Probation Systems

This work analyzes the rhetoric of for-profit probation and rehabilitation companies in the United States, examining how dichotomies have shifted our social understanding of the word “criminal” and created an environment where a justice system mediated by money can thrive. The author argues that Reagan’s revival of the war on drugs reframed addicts in need of help as criminals in need of incarceration and created a dialectic framework that made dichotomous points out of criminals and the rest of America. Using Kenneth Burke’s theories of identification and division, Ann E. Berthoff’s theories of dichotomies and dialectic, and Michel Foucault’s theories of power relations and ceremonies of punishment, the author analyzes for-profit probation and rehabilitation companies as rhetorical constructs and examines how rhetorical agency is formed and articulated within those constructs. Further, the author analyzes how communication practices shape what it means to be a criminal in the United States and how they shape what is acceptable in punishing criminals. The author also focuses on Paulo Freire’s practice of world building and James Porter et al’s practice of institutional critique to find points of intervention that are available to rhetoric and composition scholars. This study is meant to serve as a reflection on and analysis of the communication practices of for-profit probation and rehabilitation companies, and as a stepping-stone to the active practice of institutional critique and world building.

Author: Jason Huber