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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5919-0
    Published: February 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3119-6
    Published: February 2017

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Awards & distinctions

Selected for the National Book Foundation’s 2020-2021 Literature for Justice Reading List

2018 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, American Studies Association

2018 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

2018 Robert G. Athearn Award, Western History Association

2018 American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation

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 professor of history and African American studies at UCLA. She is also interim director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. One of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration, and mass incarceration, she is author of the award-winning book Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (University of California Press, 2010) and City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Currently, Professor Lytle Hernandez is the research lead for the Million Dollar Hoods project, which maps how much is spent on incarceration per neighborhood in Los Angeles County.
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

“Convincingly demonstrates that the history of American prisons indexes major social and political battles of the country’s history.”--Western Historical Quarterly

City of Inmates is a story of removal and dispossession. It is a story of environmental transformation with the use of a subjugated work force (chain gangs). And it is the story of the rise of the human cage--an object that has been both a tool of removal from the land and a racialized environment itself.”--Environmental History

“A beautifully narrated, deeply insightful historical assessment of the dynamics of American settler colonialism. . . . Remarkable for the depth and breadth of the research that undergirds each of its narratives."--Journal of American History

“An incisive and meticulously researched study of the transformation of Los Angeles from a small group of Native American communities in the 18th century into an Aryan city of the sun in the 20th.”--Los Angeles Review of Books

"By widening the historical frame, [Hernandez] offers the reader a deeper, more complex, and more historically nuanced view of incarceration. An essential contribution to critical prison studies (CPS)."--H-Net Reviews

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