Oppression Beyond Plantations: How Emancipation Led to Incarceration in Urban Buenos Aires

Valentín Figueroa
Publication type
Working Paper

We show that the emancipation of enslaved Black people led to their subsequent incarceration in a context of urban slavery —a context that lacked the economic incentives for incarceration present in plantation economies such as the U.S. South. To establish causality, we study a lottery of certificates of freedom in nineteenth-century Buenos Aires that randomly freed a small group of enslaved persons. Through archival research and digitization of the full count of the handwritten 1810 census, we link lottery winners and sets of eligible nonwinners to police records until 1830. We find that emancipation increased the probability of incarceration, on average, by 11.8 percentage points. Exploring mechanisms, we find no evidence that the effect was driven by rural labor shortages, but rather by the criminalization of petty offenses.

Photo: A lithograph entitled "Vue d'une Rue du Faubourg Ste. Marie" depicts people at work in the streets of the present day Central Business District, 1821. The Historic New Orleans Collection.