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CLJS 370: Prison Archives and Public Memories: Researching the Incarceration of Women and Girls in Washington

Putting Incarceration in Context

To better understand the impacts of mass incarceration and the impacts of the carceral system, we need to put it into context. These resources highlight different groups that research, report on, and advocate to minimize imprisonment and criminalization.

  • The Sentencing Project: The Sentencing Project advocates for effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.
  • Prison Policy Initiative: A non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society.
  • Vera Institue: Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. With offices in four major cities, and a team of hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts, they work to transform the criminal legal and immigration system so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are incarcerated; and everyone behind bars is treated with dignity.

Intersections of Incarceration & Archives

  • "Grave Yards of Exclusion: Archives, Prisons, and the Bounds of Belonging: Jarrett M. Drake is an educator, organizer, ethnographer, and PhD candidate at Harvard University. This essay is an examination of the parallels and divergences of incarceration and archives that calls on archivists to disrupt the traditional archival practices and adopt and practice an abolitionist framework in their work and activism. 
  • Against the Carceral Archive: The Art of Black Liberatory Practice: Working from five collections at the Southern California Library (Black Panthers, LA Chapter; the Coalition Against Police Abuse; Urban Policy Research Institute; Mothers Reclaiming our Child; and the collection of geographer Clyde Woods), it builds upon theories of the archive to examine carcerality as the dominant mode of state governance over Black populations in the United States since the 1960s. Each chapter takes up an element of the carceral archive and its destabilization, destruction and containment of Black life: its notion of the human and the production of "pejorative blackness," the intimate connection between police and military in the protection of racial capitalism and its fossil-fuel based economy, the role of technology in counterintelligence and counterinsurgency logics. Importantly, each chapter also emphasizes the carceral archive's fundamental failure to destroy "Black communal logics" and radical Black forms of knowledge production, both of which contest the carceral archive and create other forms of life in its midst.
  • Your Family's Genealogical Records May Have Been Digitized by a Prisoner: A 2015 Mother Jones article highlighting the Church of Latter-day Saint's use of free prison labor to digitize genealogical records.
  • American Prison Newspapers, 1800s-present: Voices from the Inside: On March 24, 1800, Forlorn Hope was published within a prison in New York state, edited by an incarcerated person. In the intervening 200+ years, over 700 prison newspapers have been published from U.S. prisons in all fifty states. American Prison Newspapers brings together hundreds of these periodicals from across the country into one collection that will represent penal institutions of all kinds, with special attention paid to women-only institutions.
  • Prisons Across the U.S. are Quietly Building Databases of Incarcerated People's Voice Prints: This 2019 article from The Intercept illuminates a surveillance practice to collect and digitize voices of incarcerated people and those they have spoken with. While not exactly the same as a traditional archive, databases such as these are becoming increasingly implemented in various avenues of the surveillance state.

Humanities Primary Sources

In humanities disciplines, a primary source:

  • Is anything produced by humans during the time period under consideration:
    • Texts, whether published (books, articles, patents, transcripts) or unpublished (diaries, notes, manuscripts);
    • Imaginative work, such as paintings, music, movies, or novels;
    • Visual resources, such as photographs or newsreels;
    • Sound recordings, such as interviews;
    • Material culture, such as scientific instruments, clothing, or garbage dumps.

Archival Methodology & Critical Archival Praxis