Prof. Andrea Armstrong named 2023 MacArthur Fellow
The so-called ‘genius grant’ will help Armstrong expand her work on incarceration transparency
Oct. 4, 2023 – Andrea Armstrong, a professor of law and nationally recognized expert on prison and jail conditions, has been named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of a “genius grant.”
The 2023 Fellows were announced Wednesday by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which provides support for people, institutions and networks that are working to build a more just, peaceful world and tackling its most pressing social challenges.
The prestigious fellowship is awarded to “talented individuals in a variety of fields who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits.” They are nominated by anonymous leaders in their respective fields and selected by an anonymous panel of judges based on their achievements and peer evaluations.
“One of the most meaningful parts of this award is the recognition of my work by my colleagues in academia, the legal field and the community here in Louisiana,” said Armstrong, the Dr. Norman C. Francis professor of law who has been at Loyola since 2010. “I am grateful to do this research with so many talented people, including people who are and/or were incarcerated and my law students.”
A certified Prison Rape Elimination Act auditor by the Department of Justice, Armstrong’s scholarship focuses on state and federal law governing incarceration and detention policies, and she often integrates law, history, public health, and the arts in her efforts to elucidate the human costs of incarceration for broad audiences. She has written extensively on the racial dimensions of prison labor practices, discipline and health care. Her work centers the voices of incarcerated people and challenges prison conditions through broader strategies, including environmental justice, anti-discrimination and workplace safety.
She is the creator of the Incarceration Transparency project, which hosts the first publicly available statewide database that tracks the deaths in every prison, jail and youth detention facility in Louisiana since 2015. The website, built by fellow law professor Judson Mitchell and Loyola law students, organizes data by institution, highlighting the concentration of deaths in certain prisons and jails and pointing toward needed systemic reforms. It also reveals the prevalence of deaths of people who are detained pretrial and who have not been convicted of a crime.
The data, which Armstrong and her students obtained by filing hundreds of public records requests with local and state agencies, is accompanied by individual memorials of people who died in the New Orleans jail. The memorials attempt to provide a fuller picture of what families, friends, and communities lose when a person dies behind bars, through research and interviews with friends and families.
“I love that this award specifically recognizes creativity,” she said. “It will help me continue creating tools for public understanding and engagement with incarceration, particularly those integrating cutting-edge research with student learning.”
Fellows receive $800,000 stipends distributed over five years – the so-called “genius” grants - that they can use however they see fit. Armstrong plans to spend her sabbatical next year exploring how climate change impacts people behind bars in the American South and beyond.
“Prof. Armstrong has been a fearless champion of prison reform and a defender of rights and dignity for incarcerated people across the state and the country, and she inspires her students to answer that same call for justice and transparency on behalf of the millions of people touched by this critical American issue,” said Madeleine Landrieu, dean of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. “She is incredibly deserving of this tremendous honor and the entire Loyola community is thrilled to see her work recognized in this way.”
Liz Behrman, RW Jones Agency