Many of the methods that public health uses may be deployed in service of carceral logics and carceral institutions.
For example, molecular surveillance, a popular data gathering method in the HIV public health response, has been critiqued by anti-criminalization groups like the Positive Women’s Network1. They note that this type of data can be easily co-opted by law enforcement and place people living with HIV at risk for prosecution. One study showed that 95% of HIV criminalization charges were targeted at sex workers, often as felony upgrades to misdemeanor HIV charges2. Since sex workers are at particular risk for exploitation by both patriarchal and state violence, this is an issue of survivor justice.
The following selected resources focus specifically on how data collection, surveillance, and policing can be non-consensual and violent, to counter the public health practice that prioritizes surveillance as necessary to health, especially in the context of infectious disease. Some resources also illustrate how surveillance is seen as a means to an end, but does not effectively intervene or challenge systemic and structural harm and disproportionately impacts communities of color.
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Last updated May 2021