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Robert Chase

On  leave, Fall 2021

Associate Professor (Ph.D., University of Maryland, 2009)

Office: SBS N-331A


Interests: Carceral Studies; Post-1945 U.S.; civil rights law and politics; the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Chicano movements; prisons and policing; labor and working class; public and oral history

The nexus of my research centers on the ways in which social justice movements, civil rights, and the prisoners’ rights movement have confronted mass incarceration and the carceral state. My book, We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners Rights in Postwar America (UNC Press, 2020), examines the southern prisoners’ rights movement of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and the subsequent construction of what many historians now call the era of mass incarceration and the "New Jim Crow." This southern trustee system was a hierarchical racial regime that constituted a vicious sex trade in which convict guards were given the tacit approval from the prison administration to engage in what I call state-orchestrated sexual assault through the buying and selling of prisoner bodies as a sexual commodity that signified cultural standing and societal power. To confront the carceral regime, a prisoner coalition of Chicano Movement and Black Power organizations publicized their deplorable conditions as "slaves of the state" and initiated a prison-made civil rights revolution and labor protest movement. My work shows that this prison-made civil rights rebellion, while mounting a successful legal challenge, was countered by a new prison regime—one that utilized paramilitary practices, promoted privatized prisons, endorsed massive prison building programs, and embraced 23-hour cell isolation—that established what I call a "Sunbelt" militarized carceral state approach that became exemplary of national prison trends.
A related book project brings together historians of immigration and immigration detention with historians of the carceral state. This project, an anthology entitled  Caging Borders and Carceral States: Incarcerations, Migration Detention, and Resistance  (UNC Press, 2019), explores how the carceral regimes of prisons, policing, and immigration are intertwined in the American southwest and borderlands.  My next book project is a history of sheriffs in the U.S. South and South West. As elected politicians and as law enforcers, sheriffs occupy a unique position in American history that mark their policing role as significantly different than in other nations.  
My work has been published in the  Journal of Urban History, the  Journal of American History, and the anthology  The New, New South (University Press of Florida, 2012); and my book projects have been supported by fellowships at Southern Methodist University, Rutgers University, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Connecticut. To reach wide audiences, I have appeared on national media programs through radio, print newspapers, and cable news television (CNN & MNSBC).


"Cell Taught, Self Taught: The Chicano Movement Behind Bars"
"We Are Not Slaves: Rethinking the Rise of Carceral States through the Lens of the Prisoners' Rights Movement"
•  "Slaves of the State: Prison Uprisings and Lessons of Attica" (review essay)
"Gun Laws and Race in Florida: Numbers Show We Aren't Safe" (op-ed)
"Confederate Flag Deserves History's Harsh Verdict" (op-ed)