Running head: Bail, Reform, and Foucault’s Dangerous Individual

  • Wendy L. Wright
Keywords: Bail reform, dangerousness, Foucault, racial capitalism, neoliberal ideology


Over 2.5 million people in the US are incarcerated annually for the sole reason that they cannot afford cash bail. This nearly exclusively affects the working-class, and disproportionately affects Black and brown individuals and communities. Whether someone is incarcerated pending trial affects employment, family stability, and even likelihood of conviction. Across the US, reform efforts are being considered and adopted, but in this paper, I use a political theory approach to argue that racial capitalist ideologies that construct the accused as specifically ‘dangerous’ impede just policy transformation. I start by centralizing Michel Foucault’s genealogy of the ‘dangerous individual’ as a frame for analyzing the logics and movement of the dangerous figure, and then re-situate the concept of the dangerous person in the contemporary US bail context. Ultimately, I argue that the dominance of oppressive ideologies in the bail discourse demonstrates the pervasive race and class biases that persist in the criminal justice apparatus, even in policy reform approaches that promise unbiased outcomes like algorithmic assessments.