Date of Award

Summer 8-4-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Luft, Rachel

Second Advisor

Ehrenfeucht, Renia

Third Advisor

Steeby, Elizabeth


During the 1980s and 1990s, the US prison system was expanding at an unprecedented rate. This research charts how prisoners at the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly referred to as Angola, founded the Angola Special Civics Project to collectively organize for prison reform. Using a combination of oral history and archival research, this thesis argues that the Angola Special Civics Project emerged during an era of political opportunity created by the coupling of political openings and contractions. Unlike outside advocates who focused their reform efforts on internal conditions, the Angola Special Civics Project centering of prisoners’ experiential knowledge led them to organize for an end to life sentencing through a combination of research, political education, electoral organizing, and coalition building. This thesis further asserts that their organizing should be conceptualized as a form of prison abolitionist reforms.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

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