In this essay Erica R. Meiners argues that those committed to dismantling our nation's deep and racialized investments in policing and imprisoning must analyze how the flexible category of “the child,” and its figurative powers, operate in complex ways to punish communities and naturalize and expand criminalization and surveillance. Never static or neutral, childhood and its attendant characteristics, for example, innocence, are not available to all, and many, including young people, are harmed by the very laws and institutions charged with safeguarding minors. In outlining the malleability of developmental categories rooted in racialized and heteropatriarchal foundations—“child,” “juvenile”—and providing examples of how the rhetorical clout of the child is deployed to strengthen laws and policies that often do little to protect young people but instead augment carcerality, Meiners suggests that dismantling the carceral state in our classrooms and communities requires a more rigorous theorization of the artifact of the child.

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