Rehabilitation and Repression: California's Prisoner Classification System, 1945-1980

Authors: Stephen Cassidy Jones*, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: Prison, Abolition, Protest
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8229, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper traces the reorganization of California Department of Correction’s (CDC) prisoner classification system in response to the prisoners’ rights movement. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, against a backdrop of global antiracist and anticolonial struggles, prisoners in California challenged their conditions of confinement. Combining direct action with civil rights lawsuits, prisoners and their allies organized across lines of race and class to demand human rights and transform the structures of inequality in the US (Davis [1971] 2016; Jackson [1970] 1994; Spencer 2016). To counter the prisoners’ rights movement, the CDC abandoned its liberal postwar mandate to rehabilitate and intensified its control over imprisoned people. Beginning in the mid-1970s, corrections administrators winnowed away education and vocational training, expanded the use of solitary confinement, and quashed political prisoner organizations (Berger 2014; Cummins 1996; Yee 1973). The CDC overhauled its prisoner classification procedures to reflect its waning concern with rehabilitation in favor of security. Ethnic prison “gangs” emerged during this period as a primary concern of corrections officials. I will present preliminary archival research into the CDC’s reorganization to address the following questions. How did the CDC refigure liberal postwar policies intended for “rehabilitation” into tools of repression? To what extent did the CDC’s concern with so-called gangs reflect an attempt to divide militant prisoners along lines of race?

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