Congressional Briefing: History of Incarceration in the United States

The National History Center of the American Historical Association held a Congressional briefing on October 9, 2015 on the History of Incarceration in the United States. Alex Lichtenstein of Indiana University; Khalil Gibran Muhammad of the Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and Heather Ann Thompson of the University of Michigan discussed the history of incarceration and prison reform in the United States. Professor Dane Kennedy, Director of the National History Center, moderated the discussion.

The briefing examined the history of incarceration in the United States from the late nineteenth century through the present.

The briefing was held on Friday, October 9, at 1 PM in Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226.


Meet the Presenters

Alex Lichtenstein, Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, is the Interim Editor of the American Historical Review. His 1996 book, Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South was one of the first to point to historical link the growth of incarceration to its historical antecedents. He has written extensively about the history of prison labor.

His works include:

Twice the Work of Free Labor

Using US prison labor to make crime pay, OpenDemocracy

Khalil Gibran Muhammad is a Visiting Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research division of the New York Public Library and one of the world’s leading research facilities dedicated to the global black experience. Khalil holds a doctorate in US history from Rutgers University and is a former associate professor of history at Indiana University. He is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard), which won the 2011 John Hope Franklin Best Book award in American Studies. He is a contributing author of a 2014 National Research Council study, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (National Academies Press), and recent co-editor of a June 2015 special issue of the Journal of American History, “Constructing the Carceral State.” His research focuses on racial criminalization in modern U.S. History.Khalil’s scholarship has been featured in a number of national print and broadcast media outlets, including the New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, NPR and MSNBC. Muhammad is a former associate editor of The Journal of American History and prior Andrew W. Mellon fellow on Race, Crime and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. He is a member of NYC’s anti-gun violence taskforce and serves on the board of The Barnes Foundation, and the editorial boards of Transition magazine and the North Star Series of John Hopkins Press. Khalil holds honorary doctorates from The New School (2013) and Bloomfield College (2014).

His works include:

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern America

Heather Ann Thompson is Professor of History at in the Department of Afro-American and African Studies, the Residential College, and the Department of History at the University of Michigan. Thompson writes about the history as well as current crises of mass incarceration for numerous popular and scholarly publications. Her work can be found in the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Salon, and The Huffington Post,  and she has appeared as well on NPR, Sirius Radio, on various television news programs, and in a number of documentaries. Several of Thompson’s scholarly pieces, including “Why Mass Incarceration Matters,” have won best article awards, and her popular piece in The Atlantic, “How Prisons Change the Balance of Power in America,” was named a finalist for the Best Media Award given by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Thompson is a Soros Justice Fellow, sits on the board of the Prison Policy Initiative, and recently served as well on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel to study causes and consequences of incarceration in the United States. In that capacity she has presented to various policy organizations in Washington, DC, has given briefings on incarceration to Congressional staff, and participated in a historic bipartisan summit on criminal justice reform in March, 2015. Her books include Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its Legacy (Pantheon Books, forthcoming), Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City and the edited collection Speaking Out: Protest and Activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Thompson was also named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.

Her works include:

Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City

How Prisons Change the Balance in America, The Atlantic

Inner-City Violence in the Age of Mass Incarceration, The Atlantic