map of historical locations of cook county jail.

I have been slow to get around to the digital humanities- to be honest, traditional research methods have given me plenty to do as I charge forward on this dissertation. However, as I meet yesterday with a colleague who was seeing my project with new eyes, I realized that she, and I, needed a map we could use to show the past locations of the Cook County Jail, the Bridewell workhouse, and the House of Correction (the latter two were institutions operated by the City of Chicago). So I made a map, which you can access here. You can click the red tabs for dates and citations.

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an American prison history reading list.

I was lucky to spend four straight semesters teaching some form of prison history at both Temple University and Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. In the course of that work, I found my students appreciated having a bibliography to jump start research projects. I know there is broad public interest in these kinds of topics as well, so I thought I would share the current iteration of my bibliography.

Some caveats: This list is by no means comprehensive. This is a work in progress and reflects an emergent field of study. As such, this list is interdisciplinary, but focuses primarily on books written by academic historians. Some works do not tidily fit the periods they are listed under, but have been placed there judiciously. It includes some works on crime, policing, and the death penalty, but is incomplete in those fields. It does not include books on wartime imprisonment and is short on books about political prisoners, immigration imprisonment, and books from the last couple years (I’m sorry I work so much) etc. This bibliography does not include a survey of journal literature because most people do not have access to academic journals. I’ve only included books that I’ve read, but not all of them. I privileged newer books and books that I really liked- books with good bibliographies of their own. Books that I would like to read, books about jails, and documentaries are subjects for another day. This list, while not definitive, is at the very least sufficient to get your Amazon search focused.

I’d love it if you’d share your essential reads in the comments.

Theory

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1977.

Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, 2003.

Glenn C. Loury et. al, Race, Incarceration, and American Values, 2008.

Overview

Blake McKelvey, American Prisons: A History of Good Intentions, 1977.

Paul W. Keve, Prisons and the American Conscience: A History of U.S. Federal Corrections, 1991.

Lawrence Friedman, Crime And Punishment In American History, 1994.

Norval Morris and David Rothman, eds., The Oxford History of the Prison, 1997.

Regina Kunzel, Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, 2010.

The Early Republic

David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, 1971.

Michael Meranze, Laboratories of Virtue: Punishment, Revolution, and Authority in Philadelphia, 1760-1835, 1996.

Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell, eds., Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, 2012.

The Emergence of the Modern Prison

Estelle B. Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930, 1984.

Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice: Women in State Prisons, 1800-1935, 1985.

Alexander Pisciotta, Benevolent Repression: Social Control and the American Reformatory-Prison Movement, 1994.

Anne M. Butler, Gendered Justice in the American West: Women Prisoners in Men’s Penitentiaries, 1997.

Rebecca McLennan, The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776-1941, 2008.

Jennifer Graber, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, 2011.

Caleb Smith, The Prison and the American Imagination, 2011.

Incarceration during Reconstruction and Jim Crow

Edward Ayers, Vengeance and Justice, 1985.

Alex Lichtenstein, Twice The Work of Free Labor, 1996.

Matthew J. Mancini, One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928, 1996.

David Oshinsky, Worse Than Slavery, 1997.

Mary Ellen Curtin, Black Prisoners and Their World: Alabama, 1865-1900, 2000.

Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name, 2009.

Progressive-Era Punishment and Reform

Jonathan Simon, Poor Discipline: Parole and the Social Control of the Underclass, 1890-1990, 1993.

Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals, 1997.

David Rothman, Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive America, 2002.

Michael Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago, 2003.

Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910, 2006.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness, 2010.

Cheryl D. Hicks, Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935, 2010.

Postwar Imprisonment and Crime

Gresham Sykes, The Society of Captives: A Study of a Maximum Security Prison, 1958.

James Jacobs, Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society, 1977.

Malcolm Feeley and Austin Sarat, The Policy Dilemma: Federal Crime Policy and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, 1980.

James Gilbert, A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s, 1986.

Daniel Glaser, Preparing Convicts for Law-Abiding Lives: The Pioneering Penology of Richard A. McGee, 1995.

Charles Bright, The Powers that Punish: Prison and Politics in the Era of the “Big House,” 1920-1955, 1996.

Michael W. Flamm, Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s, 2005.

Kathleen A. Cairns, Hard Time at Tehachapi: California’s First Women’s Prison, 2009.

Volker Janssen, “When the ‘Jungle’ Met the Forest:  Public Work, Civil Defense, and Prison, Journal of American History (December 2009).

Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough, 2010.

Ethan Blue, Doing Time in the Depression: Everyday Life in Texas and California Prisons, 2012.

Civil Rights and Social Movements in the American Prison

George Jackson, Soledad Brother, 1970.

Eric Cummins, The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement, 1994.

Tom Wicker, A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt, 1994.

Malcolm Feeley and Edward L. Rubin. Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America’s Prisons, 1998.

Donna Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, 2010.

Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, 2010.

Lee Bernstein, America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s, 2010.

The Punitive Turn and the Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex

Katherine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics, 1997.

Marie Gottschalk, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America,

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, 2007.

Vanessa Barker, The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders, 2009.

Loic Waquant, Prisons of Poverty, 2009.

Heather Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline and Transformation in Postwar American History” Journal of American History, (December 2010).

Joshua Page, The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California, 2011.

Contemporary Incarceration and its Social Consequences

Katherine Beckett and Theodore Sasson, The Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment in America, 2000.

David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, 2002.

Meda Chesney-Lind and Marc Mauer, eds., Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, 2003.

Donald Braman, Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America, 2004.

Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, 2006.

Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality in America, 2007.

Todd Clear, Imprisoning Communities, 2009.

Suzanne Oboler, Behind Bars: Latino/as and Prison in the United States, 2009.

Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime, 2009.

Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity, 2009.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 2010.

David Garland, Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition, 2010.

Lisa L. Miller, The Perils of Federalism: Race, Poverty, and the Politics of Crime Control, 2010.

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza, Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America, 2012.

Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, 2013.

 

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jail house disc jockey.

I sometimes try to describe the sensations of archival work to my junior and senior writing seminars at Temple. As I plan a lengthy summer research trip to Chicago thanks to the Platzman Fellowship at the University of Chicago, these sensations are on my mind again. Sometimes there’s the musty smell of old paper, the way tattered newspapers disintegrate if not handled gently, the sense of dread that comes with knowing I can’t get through all of the boxes. But the feeling I love best, and savor the most, is the feeling of opening a folder and being delighted by what sits on top.

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That was the case with this article from a tiny magazine- my guess was that it was from a copy of Jet in the late fifties. It was in the first folder I opened of the Hans Mattick papers at the Chicago History Museum. This was the kind of document that made me smile as I took it in all at once. There was a radio station at Cook County Jail? The red type. Who was Tom Yen-lo Wong? He was so lost in the moment, totally consumed in what he was doing. Why was he in jail?

I haven’t found any other evidence that describes the radio station at Cook County Jail, or where it fit in the scope of other programs at the time. I haven’t been able to find any evidence that tells me more about the life of Tom Yen-lo Wong. But that sensation- of learning that somebody lived, that they made a difficult situation meaningful, that things in the jail were a little different than I thought they were- that is what I love about my work.

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questions about a jail reform discourse that centers on the mentally ill.

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screenshot from http://www.cookcountysheriff.com/

As has been noted elsewhere, we are in the midst of a prison reform moment. This is great! This is what we’ve been fighting for.* Still, I’ve been a bit troubled by the way the conversation on jails is starting to focus on the mentally ill. Don’t get me wrong. County and city jails were not designed to hold mentally ill people. They do not have adequate staffs to support mentally ill populations. The incarceration of people who are mentally ill and can only get access to resources through jails is abhorrent. I agree with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart that “Jails and prisons are the new insane asylums.” I agree with The New York Times that “The mayhem inside city jails is especially striking given the historic declines in rates of homicide and other violent crimes outside of them.” Are America’s mentally ill suffering in jails? Yes. Of course. This is not a question for me. I am glad to see that the media is finally paying attention to an issue that scholars and corrections officials have long known about (this article is a good starting point).

But, still, I find this emergent discourse on jail reform problematic and unsettling for a number of reasons. I have lots of questions and few answers.

1. What are we asking for when we talk about jail reform and the mentally ill?

If we take the mentally ill out of jails and put them somewhere else, do we really believe that will we have less violent jails, or smaller jails? If we provide adequate treatment for the mentally ill in jails to replace mental institutions, are we creating a new and disturbing role for local jails? Are we arguing for a reinstatement of institutionalization? If we accept that deinstitutionalization was problematic, how do we create new institutions and new perimeters for institutionalization that don’t repeat the damage done to the mentally ill in the past? Are we willing to fund these institutions? Are we willing to advance the notion present in the media that all mentally ill people are violent, or potentially violent? Do we want to pay higher taxes so that our counties or states can be custodians of these populations, or so that the federal government can expand Medicaid and other services? Do we expect jail reform for the mentally ill to be a panacea? Are the mentally ill pawns in a larger conversation about the inadequacy of government to respond to social problems?

2. How do we talk about jail reform with regard to those who aren’t mentally ill?

When we talk about jail reform for the mentally ill, are we erasing the vast majority of people in jails who aren’t mentally ill? Are we perpetuating the belief that people who aren’t mentally ill deserve to be in jails, particularly as they await trial? When we focus on the mentally ill, do we overlook the fact that jails weren’t designed to house anyone for a long time? Does this focus lead us away from simple, common-sense solutions that can dramatically reduce the jail population, such as bail reform for people awaiting trial?

3. When we focus on the mentally ill, how are we talking about jail staff?

When we talk about  jail guards involved in brutality- either as victims or perpetrators- are we comfortable with the fact that corrections officers are among the lowest paid public employees? Are we willing to acknowledge that jail staff have a right to protect themselves in an incredibly dangerous work environment? Are we going to provide better support- psychological, medical, and social- for jail staff who bear the burden of negotiating the jail crisis on a daily basis? Are we investing in the notion that better training for jail staff can prevent violence, rather than a dramatic reorganization of the criminal justice system? Do we think that adding more psychological services in jails- and in turn, paying to attract qualified staff- would solve the problem? What happens when we think about jail reform as a labor issue?

Again, I don’t think jails should house the mentally ill. But I think if we are going to let the conversation about the mentally ill drive conversations about jail reform, we- activists, citizens, scholars, public officials- need to be clear about what we are asking for and the potential unintended consequences. In a neoliberal political culture that favors disinvestment from public institutions, what are the real possibilities for dealing with this issue? I have yet to see compelling, realistic solutions factor into these conversations.

Sustaining the jail crisis is expensive. Jail reform is expensive. What price are we willing to pay?

*even if the prison vogue reminds me a bit of Lee Bernstein’s analysis of the 70s reform moment in his fantastic book America is the Prison… another post for another day.

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a brief history of class action lawsuits at cook county jail.

Big news lately- the Uptown People’s Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center are bringing suit in federal court with allegations of brutality in Cook County Jail. Brutality is an understatement- you can read the complaint, Hudson v. Preckwinckle, here. (here is a link to the Chicago Tribune‘s coverage)

A sampling of the complaint:

“A culture of brutality and lawlessness infects the jail and forces these men, all of whom are awaiting trial, to live under a constant risk of life threatening violence.

Officers slam people to the floor, stomp, kick and punch them—often while the individuals are handcuffed and shackled. After beating shackled men until they lose consciousness, officers will drag them by their chains, banging their heads on steel doors or allowing their heads to slam into the concrete floor. Officers often violently attack people living with mental illness—generally for behaviors that are manifestations of mental illness or in response to an individual’s request for a mental health evaluation. People who appear to be in active psychosis are frequently brutalized by mobs of officers for alleged “non-compliance.”
Officers also order the men to attack, beat and stomp each other—instigating violence between the very individuals that they are supposed to protect.”

Cook County Jail is certainly not the only American jail in crisis- I have previously noted that county governments, sheriffs, and jail administrators across the United States are playing the blame game when it comes to abhorrent conditions and overcrowding. Just this week, the mismanagement of LA County Jails has been contextualized in an important piece of reporting by Los Angeles magazine. The allegations at Cook County Jail are by no means unique in our moment of national jail crisis. But it’s important to remember that this particular institution has a especially complicated and long-lasting relationship with the federal courts system. My forthcoming dissertation deals with these suits in greater detail, but I thought it would be useful to briefly highlight two previous federal court cases at the jail. If you have questions or would like to know more about my research, please contact me at melanie [dot] newport [at] temple [dot] edu.

The first class action suit brought over conditions* at Cook County Jail came in 1968 as the case Inmates v. Tierney. Originally brought as a class action suit by a group of federal prisoners being detained at the jail, the group of inmates was expanded to include local inmates who shared an interest in improving the jail’s conditions. This suit was largely driven by eight deaths at the jail in 1967, which culminated in a series of damning reports by the John Howard Association and a Cook County Grand Jury that alleged racial segregation, violence, negligent and non-existent medical care. This was one of the first inmate class action suits brought on behalf of jail inmates, whose interests had previously been ignored because of the brief nature of most jail incarcerations and a wanting judicial interest in jail conditions that lagged behind behind prisons. Interestingly, this case was dropped because the jail claimed to have implemented so many of the grand jury’s suggested reforms- not least of all, firing the warden- that the Inmates lost a lot of ground in the case. Dropping the case meant that there was no enforcement mechanism for further reforms. During the 1970s, state inspections of the jail became more common, as did class action suits. Inmates v. Tierney, along with the scandals that drove the case, manifested a public expectation of outside oversight over jail conditions.

Another major case was Duran v. Elrod, resolved as Duran v. Sheehan in 1982. Interestingly, after adding 1,000 beds during the 1970s, the Sheriff had proclaimed “mission accomplished” at the jail. The early 80s brought a guard strike and a suit over continued overcrowding at the jail as it tried to keep pace with the rapid expansion of policing under the War on Drugs and punitive changes to sentences and bail. The outcome of Duran v. Sheehan was a consent decree that provided oversight over the jail’s population by the John Howard Association. To meet the demands of the decree, the county experimented with ROR bonds, which allowed individuals to be released while awaiting trial without bail. When the public rejected this solution because of a “tough on crime” mentality, the county expanded on a mind-blowing construction project that added 7,000 beds to the jail during the 1980s and early 1990s. Duran v. Sheehan encouraged a culture of accountability at the jail, although with a limited focus on population.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the utility of class action suits. As the usprisonculture blog noted recently,

the prison IS violence. Until, we are honest about this fact, nothing can end the routine violation of the humanity and dignity of prisoners. We cannot “reform” prison brutality because once again the prison IS violence in and of itself. We must end prisons to end the violence. It’s the only way.

There are so many ways that class action suits fall short- Inmates v. Tierney was dropped and no one was held accountable; Duran v. Sheehan helped to make the jail as one of the largest correctional institutions in the world. Reform is a limited paradigm. A letter I found in my research further emphasizes this point, and even anticipated the outcome of Duran. In 1974, Alvin Bronstein, director of the ACLU’s Prisons and Jails project wrote,

“I am not very hot for cases that aim to imrpove conditions for pre-trial detainees. They do not address the issue of why pre-trial detainees are in jail in the first place, and too often the result is the building of a bigger and better jail. Nothing changes.”**

I relate to this sense of hopelessness. Change at the jail is slow, and many of the outcomes the inmate class sought to see remedied in 1968 remain to be seen. And yet, criminal suits and FBI investigations at jails are rare. Cook County politicians engaged in the blame game are dallying in shifting the onus for reform from the sheriff to the County Board President in unprecedented ways. After 45 years, class action suits remain the most promising mechanism incarcerated people can use to press reform. We need the federal courts because Cook County has continuously failed to show up for its citizens.

*as far as I’m aware at this stage in my research.

**Alvin J. Bronstein, “Letter to William J. McNally,” June 18, 1974, ACLU Illinois Division Papers, Box 648, Folder 2, University of Chicago Special Collections,  Chicago, IL.

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it’s a crime not to get involved.

Here’s a great vintage commercial for the PACE Institute at Cook County Jail. Its central mission was providing elementary and secondary education- it was accredited through the local school district. This commercial emphasizes the job training, which as I understand it, was a fairly temporary element of their programming. The 1970s were a time when the jail dramatically increased its public profile through programming, perhaps most famously through concerts that brought B.B. King and other stars to perform there. It’s interesting to me that this commercial ran in a moment of deindustrialization- the sub-text here is that in spite of that shift, access to industrial jobs could keep people out of jail. In a neoliberal world where jails and prisons house many excess workers who can’t find a place in the legitimate economy, it’s hard to imagine a commercial like this on television today.

Here’s a screenshot from a 1981 report that shows the scope of PACE’s programs.

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December 17, 2013 · 6:11 pm

who’s to blame for jail problems?

Not long ago, a great story “Do we have the right people locked up?” from the Chicago Reader came across my Twitter feed. As a historian writing the recent history of Cook County Jail, I was disappointed to see that Cook County politicians are still hashing through the same questions they were dealing with forty years ago. The piece is worth reading on its own merits, but I particularly loved the graphic that illustrated the piece, part of which I screenshotted: Image

I took for granted that this genre of blame story was a Cook County thing. However, when my brother texted me this story from my hometown newspaper, the Tacoma News Tribune, “Tacoma’s shift away from jail brings hard time to Pierce County,” it occurred to me that the “who’s to blame” story is a common trope of jail reporting and editorials nationwide. Indeed, Googling “who is to blame for jail problems?” brought up a host of stories from the last month or two, from less populated areas in Alabama, Arkansas, and East Tennessee, to metropolitan areas such as Akron, Portland, ME, Spokane, WA, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, to name a few.

Some of the actors and factors to blame:

-prescription drug arrests

-unstable funding from states

- low staffing levels

-systemic problems surrounding parole boards

-former sheriffs

-county boards

-judges

-current sheriffs

-rival jails siphoning off inmates

-the recession

-debt payments on jails

These are not new problems, and all of them, I think, point to the problem that county jails sit at the nexus of multi-jurisdictional crime control efforts that involve too many stakeholders and too little accountability. For much of the twentieth century, counties tolerated jail problems as the status quo. It the 1960s, counties began to turn to states and the federal government for guidance and funding, or were forced to make changes by state jail inspectors and judicial intervention. The outcome of these shifts was that counties had to expand jail facilities beyond their governing capacities in order to keep jails in scale with the rest of the expanding criminal justice system. Few counties in the country can actually afford to operate their jails to meet current demands of policing; few counties have the expertise to manage large jail populations or to make sound long-term jail policy. The lessons of the past thirty years are clear: too many counties have used construction as a substitute for reforms to bail and bonds, policing, mental health, drug rehabilitation, education, job programs, and community corrections. Small time politicos can point fingers all they want, but change won’t come until counties shift their focus away from who’s to blame for problems in jail to meaningful and far-reaching reform and expansion of the services counties provide to citizens.

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