As part of the American Political Speakers Series, Professor Adriane Fresh of Duke University will present her recent scholarship examining how The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) sought to fundamentally change the distribution of electoral power in the U.S. South. She will examine the consequences of this mass enfranchisement of Black people for the use of the carceral state---police, the courts, and the prison system, and study the extent to which White Southern elites turned to the carceral state as a tool of Black political suppression when the VRA rendered Jim Crow policies unusable. To systematically test this, her research uses new historical data on state and county prison intake data by race (~1940-1985) in a series of difference-in-differences designs, finding that states covered by Section 5 of the VRA experienced a differential increase in Black prison admissions relative to those that were not covered, and that incarceration varied systematically in proportion to the electoral threat posed by Black voters. By investigating evidence for the mechanism by examining how punitive public opinion changed by race and geography at the time of the VRA, findings indicate the potentially perverse consequences of enfranchisement when establishment power seeks---and finds---other outlets of social and political control.
This event will be held virtually and is open to Harvard students.