"Protective Custody": Lived Experiences of Mass Incarceration in the United States, 195090

AHA Session 90
Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Boulevard C (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Elaine Frantz, Kent State University
Max Felker-Kantor, Ball State University

Session Abstract

Over the past decade, the attention paid to mass incarceration has exploded in both scholarly communities and in the public sphere. Thus far, the focus of scholars primarily engages with the institutions and policies that created the circumstances that led to the United States currently imprisoning the greatest number of persons in the world. However, few scholars devote significant amounts of attention to the incarcerated individuals themselves. This panel instead uses a history from below approach to examine the lives of African-American women, gay and bisexual men, and the representation of these institutions and people through documentary films in reassessing mass incarceration through the experiences, encounters, and actions of imprisoned persons.

Covering the period from 1950 to 1990, the three papers demonstrate the methods by which state and federal institutions attempted to fashion prisoners into pliable subjects. As mass incarceration grew in prominence, it did so on the back of increasingly punitive legislation that reignited debates about the very purpose of prisons. This contest between those who advocated for rehabilitation against those who supported punishment often filtered into the walls of the prisons themselves—directly affecting the lives of incarcerated persons. The response from activists and movements that allied with prisoner interests—particularly the gay rights and black freedom movements—offered a counter-narrative to those who identified prisoners as disloyal and instead identified them as citizens that deserved basic human rights.

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