City of Inmates

Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965

By Kelly Lytle Hernández

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 26 halftones, 2 maps, 4 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3118-9
    Published: April 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3119-6
    Published: February 2017

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Los Angeles incarcerates more people than any other city in the United States, which imprisons more people than any other nation on Earth. This book explains how the City of Angels became the capital city of the world’s leading incarcerator. Marshaling more than two centuries of evidence, historian Kelly Lytle Hernández unmasks how histories of native elimination, immigrant exclusion, and black disappearance drove the rise of incarceration in Los Angeles. In this telling, which spans from the Spanish colonial era to the outbreak of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, Hernández documents the persistent historical bond between the racial fantasies of conquest, namely its settler colonial form, and the eliminatory capacities of incarceration.

But City of Inmates is also a chronicle of resilience and rebellion, documenting how targeted peoples and communities have always fought back. They busted out of jail, forced Supreme Court rulings, advanced revolution across bars and borders, and, as in the summer of 1965, set fire to the belly of the city. With these acts those who fought the rise of incarceration in Los Angeles altered the course of history in the city, the borderlands, and beyond. This book recounts how the dynamics of conquest met deep reservoirs of rebellion as Los Angeles became the City of Inmates, the nation’s carceral core. It is a story that is far from over.

About the Author

Kelly Lytle Hernandez is associate professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles.
For more information about Kelly Lytle Hernández, visit the Author Page.


“Hernandez puts in perspective the arrests, convictions, and incarceration for one city that contributes to the US being the carceral capital of the world. Recommended.”--Choice

“Details how successive authoritarian powers in present-day Los Angeles have targeted and captured people using cages to create what is now one of the world's largest prison societies, and ends with a call for it to be destroyed.”--The New Inquiry

“Kelly Lytle Hernandez’s City of Inmates is a remarkable book. No historian has ever told California’s history with the breadth and depth of its enduring significance quite like this. Since the Spanish colonial period every kind of American--from Native Americans to Mexican and Chinese Americans, to landless whites and African Americans--has passed through California’s jailhouse doors with profound implications for the shape of our nation today. No telling or teaching of the past is complete without reckoning with these supremely urgent stories of our carceral history.”--Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness

City of Inmates is a pathbreaking work that not only considers together the histories of the regimes of domestic incarceration and immigration detention, the major mechanisms that plague the condition of African Americans and Latino/as in our time. It also incorporates histories of incarceration and removal of Native Americans, Chinese, and poor whites as modes of ‘elimination’ by white settler colonialism. City of Inmates is a bold work that will surprise and provoke.”--Mae Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects

“In this compelling and comprehensive history of incarceration in Los Angeles, Hernández demonstrates how authorities—whether Spanish, Mexican, or American—have long used imprisonment as a tool to control labor and immigration. Covering nearly two centuries of incarceration, Hernández masterfully synthesizes the history of immigration and deportation, the history of crime and punishment, and the history of settler colonialism.”--Margaret Jacobs, author of White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880–1940

“Using settler colonialism as an analytical touchstone, City of Inmates extends arguments about mass incarceration's antiblack violence while challenging its commonly asserted origins in the Deep South or the northeastern United States. Excavating the deep histories of punishment in Los Angeles, Hernández significantly broadens our understanding of mass incarceration’s intersections with immigrant detention and colonial dispossession. Vast in scope and intimate in detail, this book is timely and necessary.”--Ethan Blue, author of Doing Time in the Depression

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