Summer Centered: Laura Mercedes '24 Combats Mass Incarceration
The political science and anthropology double major is working with Common Cause on the Mass Incarceration Policy Project, researching criminal justice corruption across the U.S.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Laura Mercedes '24 is spending her summer learning why, and how to help mitigate that reality. The political science and anthropology double major is working with Common Cause as part of its Mass Incarceration Policy project. Her work is being supported by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship’s partnership with Common Cause.
Working remotely from her home in Ridgefield, CT, Mercedes primarily researches donations made to election campaigns for sheriffs in counties where local organizers request research. In these records, she looks for potential ethical conflicts of interest between law enforcement and donor organizations. She also creates graphics detailing her findings, which will eventually be published in a report by Common Cause.
“I mainly work on various funding spreadsheets trying to discover discrepancies and conflicts of interest through cross-referencing various campaign contributions with fiscal reports from the county in question,” she said. Sheriff campaign finances are broken down and discussed in Common Cause’s publicly accessible report, The Paid Jailer. In it, Common Cause discusses industries that help fund many sheriff’s campaigns, and how those funds may be an incentive for increased incarceration.
Mercedes was familiar with the historical action taken by Common Cause against the prison-industrial complex, and was drawn to the organization’s activism opposing corrupt sheriffs through research and public-information campaigning. Additionally, the chance to study how political activism can both cause corruption and combat it presented an opportunity at the crossroads of her majors, making the internship a perfect fit.
“As a political science major and anthropology major, I really wanted to spend my time this summer examining the social ramifications of various policies,” Mercedes said. “I think mass incarceration in the U.S. is symptomatic of [problems with] our wider political and economic system, imposing far-reaching social fractures. Therefore, studying the ways in which our voting laws enable corruption fits quite naturally within the scope of my interests.”
In addition to conducting research, Mercedes has been meeting virtually with grassroots non-governmental organizations from across the U.S. to recommend, propose, and gauge the effectiveness of direct action in elections. The opportunity to interact with groups from different parts of the country and to see so many people taking action against mass incarceration has been an exciting aspect of the internship for her.
“I really like being able to connect with people from all different areas, working towards a common goal,” she said. “Seeing how small-scale, community organizing occurs is quite gratifying and working with people who, despite personal risk, are seeking to alleviate the stressors placed upon their communities is inspiring.”
Mercedes concluded, “I think just learning about the mechanisms in place, however small and difficult to access, to challenge and check individuals (such as sheriffs) with overreaching powers is very valuable.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.