Ian Wallach

Date of Award


First Advisor

Asma Abbas

Second Advisor

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez


This thesis examines the politics of prison privatization in the United States as an instance of the contentious process by which citizens establish and dispute the boundary between the public and private spheres. This particular instance offers a crucial case study since the power of imprisonment is one of the key tools in the state’s maintenance of its control over the body politic. After exploring the penal and criminal justice practic-es during America’s colonial period, the first state prisons in the United States, this work discusses the establishment of the prison as the main fixture of the American penal sys-tem. The different paths taken by the North and South in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the nationwide move to more centralized prison regimes, provides the backdrop for a discussion of how early twentieth century prison and criminal justice practices, especially Prohibition, laid the foundation for tough-on-crime politics and the fall of the rehabilita-tive ideal. Closer to the present day, the thesis illustrates the harms perpetuated by mass incarceration, which are accentuated by the contemporary trend towards prison privatiza-tion, and concludes with a call for greater involvement by the public in order to prevent the abuses associated with the privatization of public penal institutions.

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