Young People, Shadow Carceral Innovations, and the Reproduction of Inequality

Randy Myers, University of Washington Tacoma
Kaitlyn J. Selman
Tim Goddard


The rate of detention for juveniles in the United States (US) is half what it was 20 years ago, and arrest rates have declined as well. Scholars, however, have illuminated more subtle processes of criminalization, such as through school disciplinary practices and civil penalties for low-level infractions in the community. Recognizing the presence and importance of such “shadow measures” helps us to understand how the carceral state penetrates deeper into the lives of (young) people, even in the midst of emerging reforms that would seem to dull the sharpest edges of the US criminal justice system. In this article, we delineate some of the ways that “shadow measures” help to sustain and legitimate deep economic, social, and justice system inequalities in the present-day US. Specifically, we describe how several “shadow carceral innovations” in the school and community mark some young people as “dangerous,” “high-risk,” or “unsafe,” and show how these experiences are measured and judged across a variety of institutions. Ultimately, we argue that these “shadow measures” structure the day-to-day lives of youth outside the workforce and the cellblock, functioning as a key mechanism for maintaining inequality in the second decade of this century.