Andrea Armstrong

Incarceration Law Scholar Class of 2023
Portrait of Andrea Armstrong

Bringing transparency to detention policies, conditions of confinement, and deaths in U.S. prisons and jails.

About Andrea’s Work

Andrea Armstrong is an incarceration law scholar bringing much-needed transparency to incarceration practices in the United States. She shines light on the poor living conditions in prisons and jails, and in particular the deaths of individuals in custody. Her research, legal writings, and advocacy are rooted in incarcerated people’s experiences in Louisiana, but the influence of her work is much broader.

Armstrong’s scholarship focuses on state and federal law governing incarceration and detention policies; 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 healthcare. In her scholarship and in workshops, she pushes litigators to go beyond (the often unsuccessful) conventional litigation strategies anchored in the Eighth Amendment when challenging conditions of confinement. Instead, she argues for centering the voices of incarcerated people and challenging prison conditions through broader strategies, including environmental justice, anti-discrimination, and workplace safety. Out of these theories and perspectives, she created the Incarceration Transparency project. This online database contains information about the deaths in every prison, jail, and youth detention facility in Louisiana since 2015. It is the first publicly available statewide database on deaths in custody in the United States. Louisiana, like most states, has not systematically collected or publicly reported accounts of deaths in custody. To bring accountability to these facilities, Armstrong and her students filed hundreds of public records requests with local and state agencies. The website 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. Importantly, in addition to the details and circumstances of these deaths behind bars, the site commemorates victims with a descriptive memorial of their life. Armstrong and her students find and interview the individuals’ families and friends to capture a full picture of the life and social potential of each person. In many cases, these eulogies might not otherwise exist, and this storytelling brings important humanity to each death. These memorials help us understand what we as a society lose when someone dies behind bars. 

Incarceration Transparency has inspired similar efforts in other states. Armstrong created a guide for law professors who want to replicate her approach of teaching law students critical legal skills while serving local communities. The guide includes material on obtaining public records from government agencies, trauma-informed interview practices, and how to catalogue and analyze data to better understand conditions in specific facilities. Through her unique combination of scholarship, advocacy, and pedagogy, Armstrong provides critical information to criminal justice reform stakeholders and makes a powerful case for independent oversight of our current system of confinement.


Andrea Armstrong received a BA (1996) from New York University, an MPA (2001) from Princeton University, and a JD (2007) from Yale University. After law school, Armstrong clerked for the Honorable Helen G. Berrigan of the United States Eastern District of Louisiana. Since 2010, she has been affiliated with Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, where she is currently the Dr. Norman C. Francis Distinguished Professor of Law. She was an appointed member of the Louisiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021. She has published articles in the Annual Review of Public Health, Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review, Stanford Law and Policy Review, and other leading law journals.

In Andrea’s Words

“Transparency and accountability are critical tools for safeguarding our collective humanity.”

“Prisons, jails, and detention centers are unique spaces within the law. Government power and authority are at their highest behind bars, while a person’s individual rights are at their lowest. Transparency and accountability are critical tools for safeguarding our collective humanity within these vulnerable and secretive spaces of confinement.”

Published on October 4, 2023

Photos of Andrea Armstrong

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