Hello! I’m Dr. Amanda Hughett, an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies. Before I arrived at UIS in 2019, I was a postdoctoral fellow at SUNY-Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and a Law and Social Sciences Doctoral Fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. I have a PhD in History from Duke University.
I’m an interdisciplinary scholar whose research and teaching focus on law, social movements, and the criminal justice system in the
United States. I’m currently at work on my first book, Silencing the Cell Block: The Making of Modern Prison Policy in North Carolina and the Nation. It examines how civil liberties lawyers and public officials reshaped prison policy in response to imprisoned people’s activism during the 1960s and 1970s. At the heart of the book is the story of the rise and fall of the North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union (NCPLU) from its origins in the early 1970s to its defeat in the Supreme Court in 1977 and its subsequent collapse. The NCPLU was part of a multiracial, nationwide movement that sought to build a prison democracy. It believed the incarcerated should have a say in the policies that impacted their lives. Silencing the Cell Block captures the extraordinary moment when prison democracy seemed within reach, and it explains how it was lost, giving rise instead to a new bureaucratic prison system rooted in essentially unenforceable constitutional rights.
I’ve published pieces of this research in the journal Law and Social Inquiry and in the edited collection Labor and Punishment: Work in and Out of Prison. I especially enjoy sharing my research with the public. I recently participated in a Carolina Public Press roundtable discussion concerning jail expansion in North Carolina. I also spoke as part of a conference focused on the history of racial terror sponsored by the North Carolina Commission on Racial & Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System.
As a professor at UIS, my research shapes my teaching. Nearly all of my classes ask students to draw on history to make sense of contemporary policy problems and to envision solutions to them. My course Making Mass Incarceration: Criminal Justice Policy, Past and Present, for instance, is designed to help students develop their own opinions about the root causes of and solutions to the nation’s criminal justice crisis. Students spend the semester discussing texts from a variety of disciplines that examine crime, prisons, and law enforcement from the 18th century to the present day. Along the way, they complete three core writing assignments. The first asks them to outline a contemporary criminal justice issue that interests them. Next, they write a paper that examines the historical origins of the problem. Last, they draw on their history paper to write an op-ed that takes a stand on the problem or depicts it in a new light.
In the past, students have written brilliant op-eds on a wide array of topics, from prison labor to the death penalty to the Black Lives Matter movement.
There is nothing I enjoy more as a professor than helping students design original research projects. Two of my favorite classes to teach at UIS are the closing capstone courses for our Legal Studies MA and BA students. All Legal Studies classes give students the opportunity to read cutting-edge scholarship. But in the capstone classes, students get a chance to do the work of professional scholars by posing and investigating their own questions about the law. During the semester, I walk students through each stage of the research process. My classes also serve as a space where students can share ideas-in-progress and receive helpful feedback from their peers. Without fail, I’ve found that students are capable of producing steller work that contributes to current scholarly discussions.
Beyond a doubt, the best part of being a professor at UIS is the ability to work closely with students. The small class sizes mean that I get to know each Legal Studies student before they graduate. It’s a joy and a privilege to help them grow as writers, thinkers, and scholars during their time at UIS.