The “Politics” of Incarceration: Representation, Riots, Hierarchy, and Hunger Strikes in the California Penal System—a History of Inmate Organizing Thesis uri icon



  • Thesis (M.A., History) -- University of Idaho, 2015 | Over the course of the twentieth century American prisoners became increasingly politicized, perhaps none more than those incarcerated in California. Historically, inmates and convict leaders established their own system of rules, producing hierarchical structures. Administrative efforts to co-opt prisoners for the purpose of communication and security established sanctioned inmate councils. These “self-governing” bodies began as an extension of inmate power during the Progressive Era. As detention facilities desegregated, the interactions of various racial groups and radical ideologies polarized prisoners. Simultaneously, inmate councils were stripped of their punitive powers, becoming “advisory committees.” Within a culture of violence, prisoners enacted unsanctioned, racially-based councils. “Politics,” which prisoners have termed their own system, impacts not only daily life behind bars, but historical events such as riots and strikes, as well as the creation of the California Prisoners’ Union. In the complex world of “corrections,” both the captor and captive write the history of incarceration.

publication date

  • June 15, 2015


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