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Open Access

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Master of Arts (M.A.)

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prison, pennsylvania, rural, fear of crime, tough on crime, mass incarceration


Throughout the 1980s, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), a grassroots group of “prison neighbors,” organized for tighter security at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas (SCID), a medium security prison in northeast Pennsylvania. Motivated primarily by their fear of prisoner escapes, the CAC used the local media to raise awareness about security concerns and cooperated with the SCID administration to acquire state funding for projects at the prison that they believed would improve security. Their work coincided with the widespread proliferation of “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies, and the inauguration of the most intensive buildup of prisons ever witnessed in the United States. This phenomenon, now known as mass incarceration, has disproportionately impacted urban communities of color, due principally to the highly racialized nature of the War on Drugs, while the majority of prisons have been located in white rural communities. By imagining themselves as a population under threat, conceptualizing prisoners as potentially dangerous regardless of the nature of the crimes of which they had been convicted, and positioning the prison administration as a potential ally that needed constant supervision, the CAC contributed in complex ways to the solidification of a racially- and economically-skewed, intensely punitive criminal justice system. The CAC’s organizing helps expose an aspect of mass incarceration that has remained relatively unexplored thus far: the role rural communities that surround prisons played in the historical processes that moved the practice of punishment from the relative periphery of U.S. society to its present position as a central apparatus for political, economic, and social organization.


First Advisor

Christian G. Appy