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Join the Mass Incarceration Working Group as we welcome Brittany Friedman and Heather Ann Thompson for a discussion of what history can teach us about contemporary struggles for human rights within prisons and efforts to decarcerate. This is the inaugural event in the Mass Incarceration Working Group discussion series “More Beautiful and More Terrible: Prison Organizing and Abolition in Unsettled Times.”

Brittany Friedman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. In August 2021, she will join the University of Southern California as an Assistant Professor of Sociology. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University and researches race and prison order, penal policy, and the intersections between institutions and monetary sanctions in the criminal justice system. Her first book, tentatively titled, Born in Blood: Death Work, White Power, and the Rise of the Black Guerilla Family (under contract, The University of North Carolina Press), traces the institutionalization of control strategies designed to eradicate Black political protest and the resulting consequences for contemporary prison order. In addition to her book, Friedman is co-PI of a comparative study of pay-to-stay, which refers to the practice of charging incarcerated people fees for their confinement. She is also the PI of the Project on Covid-19 and New Jersey Prisons, a multi-method study evaluating the impact of policy making on slowing the spread of Covid-19 within prisons and the resulting conditions of confinement. Her scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review, Sociological Perspectives, Sociological Forum, and Black Feminist Sociology: Perspectives and Praxis. She enjoys writing for academic and general audiences, with articles, chapters, essays, and interviews appearing in scholarly and public outlets.

Media on Prof. Brittany Friedman’s Work

Heather Ann Thompson is a native of Detroit and a historian on faculty of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the departments of Afro-American and African Studies, History, and the Residential College. Her recent book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, has been profiled on television and radio programs across the country and recently won both the Pulitzer Prize in History and the Bancroft Prize in American History. Thompson writes extensively on the history of policing, mass incarceration and the current criminal punishment system for news outlets across the country, served on the much-discussed National Academy of Sciences panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S., and is currently at work on her next book entitled “Bullet and Burn” which tells the history of the dramatic confrontations between Philadelphia police and the MOVE organization during the 1970s and 80s.

Media on Prof. Heather Ann Thompson’s Work

Additional Resources:
Chicago Police Torture Archives

About the Series:
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought untold suffering onto incarcerated people and their loved ones. Those in prisons, jails, and detention centers are made vulnerable to illness and for many, these circumstances have made the past year one of mourning and revelation.  

These pressing conditions challenge those who dream and struggle for a society free of domination and control to ask themselves, What do prison organizing and abolition mean right now? How might we draw on history to meet this moment? What new strategies or knowledge have been developed, or can be developed, to push forward an abolitionist future?
Over the winter and spring, the Mass Incarceration Working Group at UChicago will host a series of “teach-ins” with activists and scholars across the country to tackle these very questions. Curated by Human Rights Lab Graduate Fellow David Knight, this series will proceed from the standpoint that abolition, to echo the words of Dylan Rodriguez, is a project of “collective genius,” an obligation to our ancestors and to future generations.

Presented by the Mass Incarceration Working Group convened by the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.