Date of Award

Summer 7-1-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Mitchell, Don


carceral state, Chicago, Plan for Transformation, policing, public housing, violence

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Urban Studies and Planning


This project examines how Chicago's public housing was policed from 1937 to 2000, when the city announced plans to redevelop public housing into privately-owned mixed-income communities under the Plan for Transformation. Drawing upon interviews, historical newspapers, and archival records, it centrally argues that policing contributed to making public housing into a carceral space: one that resembled the prison in design and management and also funneled residents into the criminal-legal system. Writing against popular narratives of public housing as an inherent site of crime and violence, this project instead positions the police—and, by extension, the state—as a central contributor to violence in these spaces. That is, far from mitigating crime, policing often spurred it. Ultimately, the inability of police to effect law and order in public housing provided a justification for its ultimate demolition, resulting in the privatization of subsidized housing and the gentrification of former public housing neighborhoods. Thus, through detailed historical-geographical reconstruction of both everyday practices and extraordinary events, this study shows how policing, through violence enacted upon the housed urban poor, contributes to upholding and reproducing racial capitalist property relations in the contemporary U.S. city.


Open Access