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Carceral State Project

Confronting Criminalization, Confinement, and Control

The Carceral State Project (CSP) is an interdisciplinary collaboration launched in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson (DAAS, Residential College, and History) in 2016. The CSP soon grew thanks to the efforts of a multi-departmental and cross-college steering committee. The CSP’s mission is to bring impacted communities and advocacy organizations together with researchers, writers, and artists from the University of Michigan to address the current crisis as well as collateral consequences of mass incarceration, of policing, and of immigration detention, in order to work actively and deliberately towards implementing more just responses to the safety concerns and social needs of this nation. Today, co-led by Dr. Thompson and Dr. Matthew Lassiter (History), the CSP continues to serve as a central hub where those committed to these goals—scholars, advocates, activists, and community organizations alike—can engage, collaborate, and make meaningful interventions locally, nationally, and internationally.

Documenting Criminalization, Confinement, and Resistance (DCCR), the collaborative research initiative of the CSP, was launched in 2018-2019. It seeks, via its interdisciplinary research reports, multimedia storytelling efforts, and the creation of a digital archive, to historicize contemporary systems of criminalization and confinement, to chronicle the experiences of those most directly impacted, to provide resources to public and academic audiences, to inform policymakers and journalists, to foster community partnerships, to promote inclusive methodologies and abolitionist frameworks, and finally to preserve records of the impact of racialized criminalization and mass incarceration for future generations. First receiving funding from the Humanities Collaboratory, the DCCR launched projects in a number of thematic areas, and its research teams were comprised of impacted persons from both the university and community, as well as non-impacted students at the undergrad and graduate level. These teams to date have: documented resistance inside of prisons and jails, worked with the U-M Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) to assist in archiving art created by those on the inside, provided “Know Your Rights” guides to persons potentially impacted by ICE in our region, generated reports regarding police shooting to assist mobilization efforts against such law enforcement violence in Detroit, and so much more.

In 2023, the CSP, and co-PIs Thompson, Lassiter, and Dr. Christian Davenport (Political Science), were awarded a million-dollar grant (as part of the Meet the Moment initiative by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts) in order to continue and to grow the work of the DCCR. This work continues to unfold in exciting ways, including: an ongoing research project that will further exoneration efforts in this country, research to support work being done by the American Friends Service Committee to end long and life sentences, and research to aid legal and community organization efforts to bring Michigan’s juvenile lifers home. It is next the goal of the Carceral State Project to become full-fledged center at the university, where ongoing efforts to reckon with, and to confront, the American carceral state might be expanded—be they in the area of research, in collaborations with grassroots activists and community organizations, or related to current efforts to expand curriculum here at U-M, as well as to have U-M become a degree-granting body within Michigan’s prisons.