Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Leith Mullings

Committee Members

Michelle Fine

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Jeff Maskovsky

Subject Categories



Based on more than a year of ethnographic and archival research in Elmira, New York and, to a lesser extent, New York City, this dissertation analyzes the social, economic, and political processes through which Elmira, New York was transformed by the construction of the Southport Correctional Facility in 1988 as a project of economic development during a period of massive expansion of the New York State prison system. It focuses on the unfolding of the project of mass incarceration and its impact on the lives of Elmira's citizens and workers, as well as the men incarcerated in Elmira's prisons and their families. Through ethnographic work with prison guards, formerly incarcerated men and women and their families, and a broad cross section of Elmirans, I trace the tensions of constructing and maintaining two prisons that incarcerate nearly 2,500 men. I show how the project of prison expansion into Elmira was an attempt to "solve" the social, economic, and political crises of deindustrialization and economic restructuring with a prison "fix." By using the prison town as a unit of analysis, I argue in this dissertation that the prison is part of a regime that extends beyond the prison's walls. I demonstrate that despite increasingly intricate fences and barriers aimed at maintaining the separation between the incarcerated men and "free" Elmira, ideas, money, and relationships circulate between increasingly connected places. An ethnographic focus on the prison town, as opposed to the prison as a distinct institution or an arbiter of ghetto relationships, allowed me to delineate the ways in which the prison leaks into the everyday life of the city of Elmira. Thus, the Elmira Correctional Facilities and the Southport Correctional Facilities are a part of a carceral state, equally political and economic, that makes use of Elmira as a place of confinement.


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