Cyrus O’Brien (DPAH 2018) has won the prestigious ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award for his doctoral thesis Redeeming Imprisonment: Religion and the Development of Mass Incarceration in Florida. Cyrus is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.
Abstract (excerpt): Redeeming Imprisonment demonstrates how religious ideas and organizations shaped the development, structure, and experiences of mass incarceration in the United States since World War II. It traces the expansion of Florida’s prison system from an archipelago of small labor camps at the outset of WWII into one of the largest criminal justice systems in the world to show how religious ideas and organizations legitimated and, at key moments, expanded the state’s capacities to supervise and incarcerate. Redeeming Imprisonment analytically centers religion while examining how its intersections with class, gender, and especially race shaped Florida’s prison system. Religious interventions in the criminal justice system undergirded rehabilitative ideologies, stabilized prisons during moments of crisis, and expanded the involvement of private organizations in probation and incarceration. Religion emerges as a key force in the adoption of parole, the embrace of halfway houses, and the inception of private prisons—fundamental transformations that expanded the criminal justice system and propelled its tentacles deeper into the fabric of daily American life.
Cyrus's work is the fourth Anthro-History dissertation in the last six years to win this prestigious prize, more than any other unit or joint Ph.D. program across the Humanities and the Social Sciences over the same period. This is an extraordinary achievement, given the very modest size of our cohorts (accepting 2-3 students/year). It is a testament to the scholarly rigor and creativity of our students, and the unflagging commitment of the faculty who advise them.