Conclusion: Exigence, Implications, and Solutions

Analyzing crime and punishment as tools for racial violence entails an immense dive into the dark history of the Commonwealth and the nation it is housed by. Though it is a worthy venture if it means identifying one of many catalysts for racial violence that has brought the nation to where it is today. By analyzing the origin of legal racial violence in the Virginian prison system as well as how the contemporary understanding of Black criminality developed, the link between capitalism, industry, racism, and punishment can be fully realized.  

Speaking first on the formulation of normative standards about crime and Blackness, it was the linkage between punishment and industry that acted as the catalyst for racist normative standards about crime and Blackness. This is because the perpetuation of falsehoods that painted Black individuals as violent gave the state the justification to maintain industries through cheap prison labor. Next, regarding the permeation of racial violence in the criminal justice system, the driving force for this permeation is the dehumanization of Black individuals in American Common Law. Lastly, regarding Virginia prison facilities as epicenters of racial violence, it was the disparate and disproportionate punishments levied against Black people that established the Virginian prison- or the American prison more generally- as a locus of legal racial violence.  

This project’s exigence lies in both its historical and modern implications. By analyzing past ideologies about crime and Blackness that acted as the foundation for modern ideologies, both the causation as well as possible solutions can be better understood. Additionally, by centering the Black experience rather than the defendant’s experience, the nuance and evolution of the American carceral state as well as the Black defendant’s experience can be understood. Lastly, the greatest unanswered question is how this matter should be fixed, or rather, how the American carceral state can be dismantled. The answer to this question cannot be answered by this project alone, but through the participation of both scholars and laypeople, a solution is entirely possible.  

John Henry Monument in Talcott, West Virginia

A monument commemorating John Henry, a freedman turned slave who was suspected to have died at the Virginia State Penitentiary. 

Isabelle Degraff

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