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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Winter 2017

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Young, Kathleen Z.

Second Advisor

Bruna, Sean

Third Advisor

Thibou, Shurla


This thesis focuses on the relationship between the prison system and the history of institutionalized racism in the United States. It begins with a detailed historical and political analysis of the criminal justice system in relation to race/ethnicity from the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century into a modern day context. The ideologies birthed from the abolition of slavery that contributed to the structure of the United States penal system are paired with practices of contemporary mass incarceration. The examination of the historical in conjunction with the present shows a clear trajectory of how the U.S. private and public prison system took on many of the roles once held by slavery. A look into contemporary practices of mass incarceration includes the role of the private prison as a way to profit from racism, as well as to expand the system. The role of free labor is central to these connections, as it is the historical constant both in the forms of antebellum slavery as well as prison labor. Finally, with an understanding of the relationship between prison conditions and racism, this thesis concludes with the questioning of what positive changes can be made.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Prison-industrial complex--United States; Discrimination in criminal justice administration--United States; Criminal justice, Administration of--Social aspects--United States; Prisons and race relations--United States; Race discrimination--United States; United States--Race relations; United States--Ethnic relations; Racism--United States

Geographic Coverage

United States




masters theses




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