Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Clarence Taylor

Committee Members

Joshua Freeman

Mary Gibson

Robyn Spencer

Subject Categories

Labor History | United States History


“The Brotherhood: Black Officers, Prisoners, and New York’s Crisis in Corrections, 1962-1984,” analyzes the experiences of a pioneering wave of urban black correction officers who found themselves in a complex position both on the job and within their communities, requiring them to navigate multiple and sometimes conflicting identities. Facing entrenched racism at work, they became unlikely advocates for civil rights. During the 1960s and 1970s they consistently promoted a more humane vision of corrections that held racial justice at the center, sought to improve prisoner conditions, and connected the plight of prisoners to issues in their home communities. The recent and fast-growing historiography on the roots of mass incarceration has vastly expanded knowledge about the turn toward imprisonment as the defining process of late twentieth-century American society. Few scholars, however have actually examined prisons themselves, one central arena in which this carceral turn is negotiated. This dissertation traces how abstract beliefs have been translated into a functioning system of incarceration, and how the lessons learned inside of the prison – by prisoners, officers, and administrators – shaped political ideas beyond the bars. Exploring the interplay of larger social movements, prison administration, and quotidian life behind bars, reveals the ways in which prisons in this period reflected and also reproduced racialized violence that worked to solidify black criminality in the American imagination and encouraged tough-on-crime politics.

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