UCLA to Establish Archive on Policing and Mass Incarceration in Los Angeles with Support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Thursday, January 28, 2021

UCLA to Establish Archive on Policing and Mass Incarceration in Los Angeles with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

UCLA scholars are launching an ambitious initiative to create one of the nation’s most diverse collections of materials related to policing and incarceration. The effort will collect, digitize and preserve a sustainable archive of data, testimonies, artifacts and police files for the next generation of research on racial and social justice.

“Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration” is being funded in part by a three-year, $3.65 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and it will bring together expertise from the UCLA Institute of American Cultures’ four ethnic studies centers and their established connections to local advocacy groups. 

The project builds off of the work of the award-winning UCLA-based Million Dollar Hoods research project, a community-driven initiative that began in 2016 to map the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. 

The collection will include new oral histories documenting Angelenos’ experiences with law enforcement and incarceration, as well as stories of survival and protest practices. Other materials collected from the community, such as bail bond receipts, mix tapes and poster art, will provide meaningful counterpoints to official police and criminal justice statistics.

UCLA’s ethnic studies centers — the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, the Asian American Studies Center, American Indian Studies Center and the Chicano Studies Research Center — were established in 1969. With a shared mandate to support research that advances social and racial justice, the centers have a combined total of more than 250 faculty members affiliated with them, one of the nation’s largest concentrations of racial justice scholars.

“This new collaboration between Million Dollar Hoods and UCLA’s ethnic studies centers will preserve the documentary evidence of mass incarceration and its impact on people’s lives in Los Angeles while building a new digital bedrock for racial justice scholars and scholarship at UCLA,” said Kelly Lytle Hernández, director of the Bunche Center and a 2019 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, commonly referred to as the “genius grant.” 

“This vital and significant effort will expand our knowledge of mass incarceration, connect the academy and impacted communities in a deep, meaningful effort to tell a more detailed and complete story about policing and race, and make the findings and insights gleaned from these crucial archival materials broadly accessible to the public,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

“Our country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and the Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration project will ensure both that oral histories and ephemera provide alternative narratives to police statistics about crime, and that the materials of our profoundly unjust criminal legal system are studied and preserved.”

Reaching across communities of color
One of the project’s first initiatives will digitally preserve a cache of Los Angeles Police Department records documenting a wide range of issues, ranging from on-the-ground enforcement of the war on drugs to entanglements between the police and immigration control. Lytle Hernández won access to those records in a legal settlement with the LAPD and was able to bring the records to UCLA with legal guidance from UCLA Library, which also provided access to a secure, climate-controlled location for the files...

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