Texas Tough: The Rise of a Prison Empire


ACLS Fellowship Program


American Studies

Named Award

ACLS Oscar Handlin Fellow named award


This project is a history of American punishment with a focus on the country’s most incarcerated and politically influential state, Texas. Examining the dynamics of race, crime, culture, and politics from slavery to the present, this project argues that Texas has served as the crucible of a uniquely harsh, racialized, and profit-driven style of punishment that became a template for the nation in the post civil-rights era. Based on archival, legal, cultural, and ethnographic sources, Texas Tough promises not only a richly textured history of the nation’s flagship penal system but critical insights into modern American politics. Charting the enduring influence of slavery and segregation on American life, the book casts new light on the rise of southern conservatism, the collapse of the social welfare state, and carceral elements of the War on Terror.