Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David K. Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brian Connolly, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Philip Levy, Ph.D.


carceral state, overcrowding, prison litigation, prison organizing


In February of 1971 prisoners staged a weeklong protest at Florida’s largest prison near the rural town of Raiford. Prior to the Raiford sit-in and hunger strike, George Jackson had only recently published his prison letters and six months after the Raiford uprising a similar protest would rock Attica Correctional Facility and bring prisoners’ rights into national news. This thesis situates Raiford prisoners’ protests in the context of an emerging prisoners’ rights movement. Prisoners made use of various protest forms, retracted their labor, and engaged in litigation to fundamentally challenge prison and achieve some improvements to their lives behind bars. Prison reformers went along, adhering to the ideas of prisoners’ malleability and rehabilitation. They echoed claims that prisoners raised in seemingly colorblind terms. Reformers believed that the problem of overcrowding that penal institutions faced could easily be remedied if only legislators allocated appropriate resources. Assumptions about race, sexuality, and gender in prison, lurked behind this progressive facade. By consulting a variety of sources – from mainstream and underground newspapers, poems, pamphlets, and papers written by prisoners to government documents and FBI reports, I show how prisoners fought their incarceration, the criminalization of their organizing efforts, and their treatment as second-class citizens. They did so in accordance with and supported by allies on the outside. My thesis adds to the buoying field of scholarship on prison activism in the “age of Jackson.” By approaching the Raiford protests with a prisoners centered lens, an ideological precursor to the protests that shock Attica six months later emerges.