Rethinking the American Prison Movement  book cover
1st Edition

Rethinking the American Prison Movement

ISBN 9781138786851
Published October 26, 2017 by Routledge
214 Pages

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Book Description

Rethinking the American Prison Movement provides a short, accessible overview of the transformational and ongoing struggles against America’s prison system. Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier show that prisoners have used strikes, lawsuits, uprisings, writings, and diverse coalitions with free-world allies to challenge prison conditions and other kinds of inequality. From the forced labor camps of the nineteenth century to the rebellious protests of the 1960s and 1970s to the rise of mass incarceration and its discontents, Rethinking the American Prison Movement is invaluable to anyone interested in the history of American prisons and the struggles for justice still echoing in the present day.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Roots: Challenging Prison Slavery and Political Repression, 1865–1940

Chapter 2: Rights: Fighting Prison Jim Crow, 1940–1968

Chapter 3: Revolution: The Prison Rebellion Years, 1968–1972

Chapter 4: Radicalism: Unions, Feminism, and the Crisis of Prison Managerialism, 1973–1980

Chapter 5: Retrenchment: Mass Incarceration and the Remaking of the Prison Movement, 1980–1998


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Dan Berger is Associate Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and the author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, among other titles.

Toussaint Losier is Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


"Rethinking the American Prison Movement depicts the interplay of democracy, enslavement, and imprisonment. Its emphasis on the agency of the incarcerated, and the efficacy of solidarity activism, creates a critical framework for 'rethinking' advocacy and abolitionism. The battles, victories, and losses depicted here, in the violent histories of brutality and slavery, are essential reading for imagining, and fighting for, a future worthy of freedom."

—Joy James, author of Seeking the "Beloved Community"

"From the penitentiaries and workhouses of the nineteenth century to the current prison-industrial complex, the United States has been a world leader in incarceration, discipline, and punishment. Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier examine the social movements that rose to reform or resist the American prison system, with attention to the marginalized activists and their allies who fought for justice both inside and beyond prison walls. This is a necessary and important book."

—Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North

"Berger and Losier have written a clear and comprehensive overview of organizing within, around, and against prisons in the United States. Interweaving analyses of racism, nationalism, and civil rights activism, the book will become a vital resource in the effort to understand mass incarceration and a fantastic tool for historians, lawyers, and sociologists alike, especially those interested in the tensions between agency and structure."

—Keramet Reiter, author of 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Solitary Confinement