The Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men recently welcomed Michael Leo Owens, an associate professor of political science and religion and a research partner for the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative at Emory University, to its lecture series on Imprisonment. During his talk, Owens built upon this year’s theme with his lecture, “Apparitions of Full Citizens: When Should the Civic Imprisonment of Felons End?” Owens also participated in a roundtable discussion the following morning.
In his lecture, Owens spoke about the continued imprisonment of felons after being released from physical incarceration. “We see felons as deviants,” explained Owens. “They fail to conduct themselves according to rules, in a statistical sense they deviate from the average, and in a common sense way, we feel that there is something wrong with them.”
According to Owens, upon being released from prison, felons have a difficult time finding employment and housing, receiving health care and education, and re-entering society in general. This social ostracization is civic imprisonment and is harmful to the felon and to society as a whole. “We need to think about felons after their incarceration and how denying them the rights of a citizen undermines the notion of payment of their debt,” said Owens. “We need to replace the dominant status as felon with the status of citizens. They are shadows of citizens.”
Civic imprisonment does not “teach a lesson” to former felons, says Owens. In fact, this punishment exceeds reason and works against redemption, making the positive reintegration of felons nearly impossible. “These felons are apparitions of full citizens, phantasms of their former selves,” remarked Owens. “When should civic imprisonment end? It should end now.”
Owens received his Ph.D. from State University of New York at Albany. He is also the co-organizer of the Atlanta Reentry Mapping Network for the Urban Institute, a research initiative by scholars and community stakeholders to study the spatial distribution and social dynamics of ex-prisoner reentry in metropolitan Atlanta. The author of “God & Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America,” Owens’s current projects include Prisoners of Democracy, a multi-method study of punitive public policies and attitudes in the U. S. that impede the reintegration of ex-felons as democratic citizens.