Year of Publication

2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Erin Koch

Abstract

Mass incarceration and its effects are well documented and carceral privatization is hotly contested on moral and economic grounds. This dissertation examines the local effects of carceral privatization in the U.S. south in historical context. Tallulah is a small, rural predominately African American town in northeastern Louisiana that endures high rates of poverty, unemployment, and low educational attainment. It also hosts four private prisons operated by LaSalle Corrections, LLC. Two primary and overlapping questions guide the research. 1) How has an history of carceral entrepreneurship and mass incarceration impacted the way persons and communities create livelihoods and imagine futures, and how have these strategies changed over time? 2) In what ways does for-profit incarceration in Tallulah sustain historically racialized social and economic patterns of low educational attainment, unemployment, crime, and poverty? Findings presented here draw on 13 months of ethnographic data collected from 2015–2019 where I conducted informal interviews with multi-generational participants and partial life histories with persons aged 19-92, participant observation in community spaces and public meetings, as well as guided tours in the community and surrounding area and local archival research.

The dissertation provides an overview of Louisiana’s carceral economy spanning chattel slavery, convict leasing, and sharecropping up to the more recent history of carceral entrepreneurship in Tallulah recounted from local newspaper archives, publicly available documents, and resident’s experiences. I argue that incarceration and prisons be understood as an extractive industrial enterprise (carceral extractivism) within a longer trajectory of expropriative racial capitalism. Examining the local history and effects of carceral entrepreneurship as it materialized locally in Tallulah during the 1990’s in the building of a men’s detention facility and a youth prison, since converted to a women’s transitional facility, illustrates how these processes involve private individual investors, the community, and state actors that national debates often leave unexamined.

I argue that carceral entrepreneurship in Tallulah influences community livelihood strategies and well-being overtime through changing employment possibilities and wage migration but must be understood alongside and with other processes including periods of school integration, state policy towards social services, and the legacies of deep poverty, disenfranchisement, and criminalization in the south. Similarly, carceral entrepreneurship in Tallulah exacerbates socioeconomic challenges in the community, materially in the form of financial resources diverted from the city to private companies and the Sheriff’s office, but also in terms of imagined life outcomes and of living day to day in a “prison town” where the facilities predominate on the landscape.

In response to the challenges presented by mass incarceration in the community I examine the ways in which people make lives worth living alongside extractive carceral institutions through various forms of work, including scrapping metal, cottage food industries, and involvements with local churches. Through these livelihood creating activities, centered around an ethic of “acting right,” non-carceral spaces of social reproduction are created, resisting, even as they are constrained by, carceral entrepreneurship in the community and broader region.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2020.293

Funding Information

Susan Abbott-Jamieson Pre-Dissertation Research Grant, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, Summer 2015

National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (Award # BCS-1756928), Feb.1, 2018-Oct. 31, 2019.

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