Recent Press

Selected Quoted in:


Newsweek: June 22, 2016

Brutal Murder Busts Up Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi

CNN: June 24, 2016:

The Next LGBT Cause: Gun Control 

The Metro Times: April 26, 2015

Thousands of Michigan kids suffer because of mass incarceration

Vice: March 24, 2016

How Cops Terrorize People Without Even Arresting Them

BBC: December 18, 2015

Is it Fair to Punish Prisoners with Food

MotherBoard: September 23, 2015

When Prison Food is Punishment

NYT: September 28, 2015

New York City Bar Association Urges Reduction of Mass Incarceration in Report

Happiness is a family sleepover.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: January 6, 2015

Ferguson Did Not Happen in a Vacuum

American Prospect: May 28, 2014

Modern-Day Slavery in America’s Prison Workforce

The Morning Call: April 29, 2014

Prisoner Suing for Conjugal Visits with his Wives

 The Philadelphia Inquirer: April 27, 2014

Mississippi Ending Conjugal Visits for Prisoners

USA Today: February 9, 2013

Film Raises Questions about 1971 Attica Prison Riot

Detroit Metro Times: October 24, 2012

U.S. prison system dwarfs other nations’, but what does it really cost us?


April 2, 2015

J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Finalist:

Heather Ann Thompson for “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy” (Pantheon Books)

The judges wrote, “Heather Ann Thompson’s tough-minded, compassionate and exhaustively researched account will finally give us, more than four decades on, the definitive story of that seismic event, one that will shine a light on the reasons why that tragic conflict between prisoners and the authorities occurred, what actually transpired during those tense and dramatic few days, and its complex legacy for our time.”


August 20, 2012


We are pleased to announce that Heather Thompson has won the 2012 Distinguished Scholarly Article Award from the ASA Section on Labor and Labor Movements. Her award-winning article, “Rethinking Working-Class Struggle Through the Lens of the Carceral State: Toward a Labor History of Inmates and Guards,” appeared in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas volume 8, issue 3 and was published in fall 2011.


Posted Jun 4, 2012 — Kim Fischer
June 4, 2012

Heather Ann Thompson, professor of history in the Department of African American Studies and the Department of History at Temple, has been named to a National Academy of Sciences panel to study the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration in the United States. The two-year, $1.5 million project is sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Thompson, the only historian named to the panel, is writing the first comprehensive history of the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its legacy. She is also the author of Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City (Cornell University Press: 2001).

The 18-member panel of leading scholars and experts, chaired by Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, will examine the reasons for the dramatic increases in U.S. incarceration rates since the 1970s. Currently, more than 2.3 million people are behind bars in American prisons and jails at any one time, representing one of the highest incarceration levels in the world.

The commission will focus on existing scientific evidence on incarceration in the U.S. and propose a research agenda on incarceration and alternatives to incarceration for the future.

Others panelists are Jeffrey Beard, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Corrections Department, now at Pennsylvania State University; Robert Crutchfield, a sociologist at the University of Washington; Tony Fabelo of the Council of State Governments Justice Center; Marie Gottschalk, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania; Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard University; Glenn C. Loury, professor of social sciences and economics at Brown University; Sara McLanahan, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University; Lawrence Mead, professor of politics and public policy at New York University; Ann Morrison Piehl, professor of economics at Rutgers University; Daniel Nagin, professor of public policy and statistics at  Carnegie Mellon University; Devah Pager, a professor of sociology at Princeton;  Robert Sampson, professor of social sciences at Harvard and president of the American Society of Criminology; Michael Tonry, professor of law of the University of Minnesota; Avelardo Valdez, professor of social work at the University of Southern California; and Bruce Western, professor of sociology at Harvard.



Best Article Award, 2011

Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History” The Journal of American History 97, (Dec. 2010):

The committee agrees that the clear winner of the competition is Heather Ann Thompson’s article, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History” The Journal of American History 97, no. 3 (Dec. 2010).

This is an article of lasting significance that makes a powerful intervention into the scholarship on postwar cities. There has been a spate of recent scholarship on the explosive growth of prison systems in the postwar United States, but most of this work has focused on either the prison systems themselves or the public policy debates that shaped their growth. Thompson’s contribution is to show that mass incarceration should be considered among the major influences producing the “urban crisis.” The imprisonment of unprecedented numbers of young men (particularly young black men) contributed directly to impoverishing urban neighborhoods, undermining the labor movement, sapping the political power of central cities, and weakening postwar liberalism. Thus, mass incarceration should be considered not simply as a reflection of rising criminality, nor even as a symptom of so-called “urban decline,” but as a factor in urban history comparable in significance to those already explored by scholars of deindustrialization, suburbanization, white flight, and conservative ideology.

The article detects the roots of mass incarceration in the pre-Civil Rights era, when criminologists and ordinary white Americans ascribed deviant tendencies to nonwhites. As blacks made stronger claims to equal citizenship in the last third of the twentieth century, white public officials drew on this racialist tradition in their increasingly aggressive attempts to impose “law and order.” The adoption of harsh new drug laws produced (or at least exaggerated) an artificial spike in crime rates, which in turn was used to justify a growing police presence in schools, streets and other public spaces in black neighborhoods. Incarceration disrupted urban family structures and had lasting effects on family incomes; released convicts suffered long-term health consequences and had difficulty finding jobs. Meanwhile, the use of prison labor by private employers diminished the demand for free-world labor and put downward pressure on free-world wages. Though the construction and operation of prisons did create new jobs, a disproportionate number of these jobs were in remote rural areas. Rural white areas also benefitted politically from mass incarceration; the non-voting prison population was counted as part of the population of the surrounding rural district for purposes of representation and distribution of government resources.

Given its broad scope, the article inevitably rests on a wide range of sources, some more persuasive than others. Some readers may question, for instance, the extent to which incarceration shaped labor markets on a national level. Nonetheless, one of the markers of innovative scholarship is that it encourages other researchers to explore, evaluate, challenge or confirm its findings. Thompson’s article opens fruitful lines of inquiry for future scholarship. Thus, in the judgment of the committee, this provocative essay is likely to influence urban research for years to come.


Temple historian discusses the “lingering injustice” of Attica

Posted Sep 13, 2011

September 9th marked the 40th Anniversary of the first day of the Attica uprising, a protest by inmates at western New York’s infamous correctional facility, which played out over a five-day period.

Though it is barely mentioned in textbooks, the Attica uprising is one of the most important rebellions in American history, said Temple historian Heather Ann Thompson, who is writing the first comprehensive history of the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971 and its legacy.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, she writes, “As America begins to rethink the wisdom of mass imprisonment; Attica reminds us that prisoners are in fact human beings who will struggle mightily when they are too long oppressed. It shows as well that we all suffer when the state overreacts to cries for reform.”

According to Thompson, the protest was based in part upon prisoners’ demands for decent medical care, humane parole and less discriminatory policies. When it was over, 39 people were dead, including ten correctional officers and civilian employees.

But much of the information about the rebellion remains under the state’s lock and key. To recover the story of Attica, Thompson has immersed herself in legal, state, federal, prison and personal records related to the Attica uprising and its aftermath (some never-before-seen) located in archives, governmental institutions and various individual collections around the country and the world.

“America has paid a price for the secrecy surrounding the Attica uprising and the state’s refusal to investigate — a pervasive distrust of prisoners, the erosion of hard-won prison reforms and the modern era of mass incarceration,” said Thompson.

Thompson holds an appointment in the Department of African American Studies and is also on the faculty of the Department of History in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts.


The Attica Uprising, 40 years later

By Jamil Smith

-Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:11 PM EDT

Forty years ago today, the Attica Uprising ended with more than three dozen deaths, prisoners, guards and civilian employees at New York’s Attica Correctional Facility….

….Two additional looks at the Attica Uprising prove alternatively illuminating and disturbing. Reader clioprof linked the first in the comments below: a historical look from Temple University professor Heather Ann Thompson, who is writing a book on the uprising. Her piece details the bloodshed that resulted from then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordering New York state troopers and other law enforcement to quash the riot on September 13, 1971.

After that raid, the governor called President Richard Nixon to “claim victory unambiguously,” as yesterday’s New York Times report details. An interesting anecdote:

The next day, even after it was becoming clear that hostages had also been killed by sharpshooters, Nixon told Rockefeller: “You just stand firm there and don’t give an inch. Because I think in the country, you see, the example you set may stiffen the backs of a few other governors that may have a problem. But also in the country, too, I think that it might discourage this kind of a riot occurring someplace else.”

“Tell me,” Nixon asked, “are these primarily blacks that you’re dealing with?”

“Oh, yes,” Rockefeller replied, “the whole thing was led by the blacks.”

Later that afternoon, Nixon asked H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, whether reports from the prison included “the fact that it’s basically a black thing.”

“That’s going to turn people off awful damn fast,” Nixon said, “that the guards were white.”