Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Michael Javen Fortner

Subject Categories

Political Science | Public Policy | Urban Studies


correction officers, mass incarceration, New York City Department of Correction, African-American women, women correctional personnel


Recent work has popularized the idea that mass incarceration arose in the wake of the civil rights movement to maintain the social and economic subordination of African Americans previously enforced under Jim Crow. This discussion has not accounted for the many black Americans working in corrections, particularly in large metropolitan jail systems. This paper documents the increase in black women working as correction officers and administrators in the New York City Department of Correction since the late 1970s and explores the implications of this growth on the strict racial argument about mass incarceration. Using administrative and archival sources, it argues that the Department has been a site of professional advancement for black women and that the timing of this demographic shift suggests that carceral expansion in part enabled black women to gain a foothold in a traditionally white and male profession. It argues that these are good jobs that have offered economic security and political power to black women in corrections, and that this evidence highlights the inadequacy of strictly racial arguments about the causes and consequences of mass incarceration. Finally, it argues that an accurate demographic picture of workers in corrections is critical for advocates of racial justice and decarceration.