illustrating chapter five: winston moore and the cook county jail master plan.

Today I am presenting one of my dissertation chapters at the Penn DCC workshop. When I first came across the story of Winston Moore, I was considering doing a project that looked at multiple jails across the country. After reading his story during my newspaper research, I knew I had to do a case study of Cook County Jail. Here are some images that represent chapter 5 cross-posted from my twitter feed.

Abstract for Chapter 5:
What role did federal grants through the War on Crime play in the expansion of county jails? During the 1970s, federal grants through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration created incentives for local governments to choose expansion over other available policy options. At Cook County Jail in Chicago, federal funding both incentivized construction and fostered the institutional growth of a troubled facility that required monitoring by the federal courts into the twenty-first century.
During the 1970s, Cook County Jail administrators used new federal grants to plan and initiate the massive addition of 3,500 beds to the jail. Even as activists used federal funds for bail reform and jail education programs to reduce overcrowding and the county’s reliance on pre-trial detention, Cook County politicians used the same grant sources to build a bigger jail.
At the heart of this project was the jail’s first master plan, which advanced planners’ assumptions that new, efficient buildings would rehabilitate inmates and that rising crime among African Americans would necessitate long-term jail growth. At the helm of this project was Winston Moore, the nation’s first African-American warden. However, because Cook County failed to allocate sufficient manpower resources and repair existing facilities, the federally funded expansion failed to improve conditions for pre-trial detainees and inmates at the jail. The shortcomings of the implementation of the master plan reveals the ways in which local politics undermined the LEAA’s corrections reform agenda. As a result, the federal government sued the jail for using LEAA funds to implement racial segregation in its new facilities and set off a wave of class action suits that shaped the jail’s expansionist politics in coming decades.

Why I tweet so much about this chapter is a subject for another day.

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the jail construction conundrum.

philly.com aerial photo of the House of Correction

In Philadelphia, there is news that the city’s new budget includes funds to buy land for a new jail. The jail would replace the city’s House of Correction, built in 1874, which today houses 1,500 people. As Commissioner Lou Giorla asserts, “It was substantially renovated in 1929 and not since. It requires a number of capital improvements, and it’s difficult to maintain, and it does not support correctional practice today. We have to replace it.”

In New York, a former corrections administrator blames the problems at Rikers Island on archaic facilities. In what appears to be a rebuttal to The New York Times’ careful documentation of a culture of brutality by corrections officers, the official declares “the cumulative effect of years of disrepair and neglect have made Rikers into a place that essentially invites bad behavior… Inmates — in most cases, people who have been accused but not yet convicted of a crime — deserve better. So do correction officers, who deserve decent and respectable working conditions.”

In both cities, I imagine, activists are considering the need to mobilize against imminent jail construction in a moment widely celebrated by bipartisan coalitions as an epoch of decarceration and criminal justice reform.

The question of whether problems in either city jail system can be resolved by jail construction is a complicated one. After World War II, counties across the country embarked on the project of replacing archaic jail facilities; by 1978, nearly 60% of the nation’s jail population lived in facilities built after 1950.[1] In spite of this construction, a rights revolution of class action lawsuits over jail conditions flourished throughout the United States.

In a 1969 report on Illinois jails, scholar Hans W. Mattick looked skeptically at jail construction, suggesting, “the fundamental fact about jail reform… has consisted of replacing dilapidated facilities with new structures. The same old sour milk is poured into new bottles while the mold continues to flourish.”[2]

Mattick’s concerns that new facilities would remain understaffed, dirty, and dangerous were born out by the ensuing forty years of class action suits at Cook County Jail in Chicago. Every time administrators asked for funds to build a new building, they promised improved conditions; with each new building, there were more allegations of inmate maltreatment. Today, an ongoing class action suit by the MacArthur Justice Center focuses on two of the Jail’s newest buildings, all of which should, on paper, meet modern day correctional standards. Charging “The sadistic violence and brutality at the Cook County Jail is not the work of a few rogue officers,” it seems likely that new buildings have not resolved a culture of violence that is rooted in labor practices at Cook County Jail.

With this history in mind, should we dismiss jail construction altogether? In the Philadelphia case, I don’t doubt for a second that housing people in a facility built in 1874 is a living nightmare for both detainees and staff. A new facility would probably be a vast improvement, and indeed, replacing a structure that is over one hundred years old is kind of a policy no brainer. I doubt that a fight against jail construction in Philadelphia will be successful. As the call for construction at Rikers comes on the heels of inmates saving a corrections officer from a sexual attack, it is difficult to argue with the fact that existing jail spaces aren’t dangerous. They are dangerous.

However, discussion about jail construction must also be accompanied by a reassessment of how local courts use bail and how much pre-trial detention in these facilities is truly necessary. Jail administrators will choose construction to deal with their internal problems; it is a tool of reform that they will use in spite of evidence against its efficacy because it is one of the few tools they have. Unfortunately, jail policy is often made in isolation from the policing and judicial contexts that fill jail beds in the first place.

The best way to avoid jail construction is to divert those arrested from pre-trial detention through a reduced dependence on money bail. Only after the courts have done their part to reduce pre-trial populations can communities make informed decisions about whether or not maintaining a city’s jail bed capacity is truly necessary.

[1] Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Jails: Intergovernmental Dimisions of a Local Problem (Washington DC: May 1984), 6. http://www.library.unt.edu/gpo/acir/Reports/policy/a-94.pdf

[2] Hans W. Mattick and Ronald P. Sweet, Illinois Jails: Challenge and Opportunity for the 1970’s (Chicago: Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, the Law School, University of Chicago, 1969), A. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/abstractdb/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=651

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dissertation abstract and chapters.

Building the Carceral State: Cook County Jail and the Local Origins of Mass Incarceration

“We know that the best way to bring down the cost of the jail is to bring down the jail population,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told voters as she unveiled the 10,000-bed Chicago jail’s $381 million dollar budget for 2015. Faced with the threat of federal takeover and millions in legal settlements over brutal and unconstitutional conditions, county politicians are scrambling to come up with policy solutions to reduce its reliance on Cook County Jail. While social scientists such as John Irwin, John Walsh, and Loïc Waquant have found that large jails have been vital engines of mass incarceration, however, historians have focused on how “top down” federal policies shaped policing and prisons during the postwar era. Without addressing the “bottom up” construction of local jails, the carceral state appears imposed upon localities rather than the product of local agency. An emphasis on federal action rather than local policy obscures the very institutions that detained millions of pre-trial offenders and sentenced misdemeanants in the decades after World War II. Examining one of the largest jails in the United States, this dissertation fills this gap in the literature by examining how local policymakers endeavored to build their way out of overcrowded jail conditions because they believed new jail spaces would help them control growing populations and prevent recidivism. The carceral state that emerged from these efforts is a complex governmental system of laws, policies, interconnected institutions, and agencies operating across multiple jurisdictions with the primary purpose of deterring and punishing crime through surveillance, legal and financial sanctions, and incarceration. My thesis suggests that we cannot understand it fully without looking at how it intersects with municipalities such as Chicago, and local institutions of punishment such as the Cook County Jail. Adding this story to the emergent narrative of imprisonment and policing, I will show that that the activists, civic organizations, judges, politicians, sheriffs, and wardens who contested and negotiated jail expansion shaped the construction of the American carceral state from the bottom up.

The story begins in 1954. University of Chicago sociologist and sheriff Joseph Lohman sought to implement a broad-based reform vision to reduce overcrowding that included parole, sentencing reform, programming, social welfare services and the construction of specialized correctional facilities for different types of offenders. This expensive proposal failed to gain traction with the county’s fiscally conservative politicians, who chose to add beds to the existing jail. The League of Women Voters complicated this effort by pursuing bureaucratic reform at the state level to ensure Lohman’s commitments to contemporary penology endured. While the League was successful in creating the Cook County Department of Corrections, a non-partisan governing body, their reform efforts failed to address the humanitarian crisis at the jail. Deaths at the jail in the late 1960s revealed rampant mismanagement, brutality, and inhumane conditions that violated the constitutional rights of inmates. Inmates and activists initiated class action suits, educational programs, and bail reform to promote reduction in the jail’s population and improved conditions during the 1970s; however, such activist efforts occurred in tandem with jail administrators’ deployment of federal funding to add 3,000 beds to the 1,300 bed jail. The addition failed to improve dangerous conditions at Cook County Jail, and by 1982, the federal judiciary began to pressure the jail to again relieve overcrowding. When local citizens rejected the mass release of petty offenders, policymakers again responded with construction. By 1996, the jail had 10,000 beds and an array of “alternatives to incarceration” that supervised thousands of pre-trial defendants. Rather than resolve the humanitarian crisis of incarcerating large numbers of poor and minority inmates, postwar expansion of Cook County Jail and urban jails like it made mass incarceration possible.

Using county records, oral histories, jail plans, court records, inmate letters, records of professional organizations and social movements, and grand jury reports, this dissertation makes clear that mass incarceration and the emergence of a carceral state were contingent upon the massive expansion of local jails in postwar America.

Tentative Chapter Titles

  1. The Pursuit of Reform and Rehabilitation, 1954-1958
  2. Bureaucratic and Legal Foundations for Expansion: Consolidation, State Politics, and the League of Women Voters
  3. Death, Filth, and Brutality: Conditions in the Overcrowded Jail during the 1960s
  4. Contesting Jail Growth: Programming and Class Action Suits in the 1970s
  5. “Nobody ever wins in a jail”: The Master Plan and Outcomes of Federal Funding for Jail Construction in the 1970s
  6. Judicial Intervention and Jailhouse Innovation: The Population Cap and Release on Recognizance in the Age of Reagan
  7. “I’d rather have a jail”: Jail Construction and Alternatives to Incarceration at the Dawn of Mass Incarceration

for a look inside Cook County Jail, visit the Cook County Sheriff’s website.

for commentary on criminal justice issues and the ongoing crisis in American jails, follow me on twitter @melanienewport.

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America’s jail crisis: historicizing the Vera Institute report.

It is not every day that the world wakes up to the crisis in America’s jails. Thanks to an important new report by the Vera Institute, my twitter feed today is buzzing about jails. Can I be any more excited? Slick infographics and lots of data all in one place, and a financial incentive for jails from the MacArthur Foundation for them to get to work. This is a BIG deal and I’m glad that both organizations are working to make jails apart of the ongoing reform discourse.

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What’s problematic, of course, is that folks are using presentist language to describe the findings- chief among them, a historically inaccurate The New York Times headline: “Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, A Report Says.” This is frustrating. There is a deeper history that shows that America’s jail crisis has been ongoing since at least the 1950s. This crisis has been accompanied by a reform movement that for just as long has been unable to garner adequate funding for jails and has been not been able to influence the systemic reform needed to keep people out of jails. The history of American jails does not give me a lot of confidence that jail reform is possible.

One of the key historical claims comes on the first page of the report:

“this report marks a bittersweet homecoming for Vera as our very first project was The Manhattan Bail Project, which showed that many, if not most, people accused of com- mitting a crime can be relied on to appear in court without having to post bail or be held until trial. The lessons we learned and shared in 1961 have not stuck nearly enough.”

The Manhattan Bail Project was a game changer and its reference speaks to the deeper history. After World War II, jails were overcrowded hellholes. Unlike jails today, few offered adequate healthcare or training for guards. It was difficult to inmates to access books, lawyers, or even their families- most jails didn’t allow children to visit. Basic laundry services were limited for inmates who wore their own clothes and bedbugs were rampant. Food spending was often a quarter of what it was in prisons. People went to jail for many of the same reasons as today- thefts, DUIs, narcotics, violent crimes- but also for reasons that are less common than today- like failure to pay alimony. In many cases, they were in jail because they could not pay bail.

Cook County Jail was overcrowded when it opened in 1929 and it was still overcrowded in 1954. In Cook County, bail reform projects modeled after the Manhattan Bail Project during the 1960s and 1970s helped to reduce the amount of bail paid (just 10% of the total amount) or in many situations, allowed for “release on recognizance” with no bail paid at all. Using risk assessment, courts used social information about inmates in order to determine whether they might commit crimes while awaiting court or not show up for court (interestingly, some of these risk assessments. Court reform increased the number of judges, helping to reduce “time to trial.” Night courts, weekend courts, and holiday courts came out of this moment.

The Manhattan Bail Project, and projects like it, however, failed to produce lasting reform. Even in the midst of bail reform, jails like Cook County remained overcrowded from the 1960s onward. Judges never used ROR as much as activists wanted; police, armed with new cool toys, policed without regard for the amount of space jails actually had. Policymakers advocated for more punitive policies and policing of a wider number of crimes. Jails were so overwhelmed with bodies that programming- including drug rehabilitation programs- was often out of reach or operated at too small of a scale to have a meaningful impact, usually because of cost.

With the coming of inmate class action suits in the 1970s and 1980s, jails could no longer wait for other elements of the criminal justice apparatus to reform themselves. Federal judges condemned filthy conditions, lack of beds, brutality, and violence as violating the due process rights of people who had not gone to trial. Since then, many jails have focused on their struggle to maintain constitutionally sound conditions (which is a very low standard).

The crisis in American jails is not new. When I think of the history of American jails, I agree with the Vera Institute’s conclusion:

“The misuse of jails is neither inevitable nor irreversible. But to chart a different course will take leadership and vision. No single decision or decision maker in a local justice system determines who fills the local jail. While some jurisdictions have made strides in developing, implementing, and evaluating off-ramps from the path that leads to the jailhouse door, change at one point in the system will have limited impact if other key actors and policies pull in the opposite direction.”

However, I’m not so sure the institutional or political capacity- let alone, will- yet exists “to both scale back and improve how jails are used in a sustainable way.” That so many jails are now under federal oversight shows that even if jails reduced the numbers of people inside them, it would take decades of work and billions of dollars to make them into institutions that are actually able to serve the common good and promote human dignity. Nobody- not politicians, activists, citizens, jail administrators, or sheriffs- has ever truly been up for that task for the long haul. The very history of American jails shows that jails are one of our country’s most unsustainable institutions. Can jails be saved? Are they worth saving? I’m not so sure.

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CCP- history 103.

If you are student from my History 103 course at Community College of Philadelphia and would like to avoid long lines at the Bookstore, I am sharing links to the course texts. You will need them to prepare for class on January 24, so you have plenty of time to order online if you choose to do so. If you are tight on cash: you will be fine with an the earlier edition of Give Me Liberty but you will need the most recent edition of the documents book, Voices of Freedom. January 17 is the only day that you will not need to bring your documents book to class.

If you have any questions, please get in touch at mnewport AT ccp DOT edu.

http://www.amazon.com/Give-Me-Liberty-American-History/dp/0393920313/ (Links to an external site.) (4th edition)

http://www.amazon.com/Give-Me-Liberty-American-History/dp/0393911918/ (Links to an external site.) (3rd edition)

http://www.amazon.com/Voices-Freedom-Documentary-History-Edition/dp/0393922928/ (Links to an external site.) (documents book)

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reviving bail reform: from the alliance to end repression to #decarcerateCHI

“A democratic society or a police state in America– which will it be?” This was the guiding question of the Alliance to End Repression, a coalition of over fifty activist groups that formed in 1970. “Reaching from the Black and Latin ghettos to the affluent suburbs” of Chicago and Cook County, the coalition included Black Panthers, the Chicago Bar Association, and the League of Women Voters, in addition to large numbers of neighborhood organizations.

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The Alliance came together to seek justice after the police assassinations of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Rather than limit their agenda to just one issue, they pressed for a “unified, inclusive, action-oriented alliance” in challenging the police state. In a political moment of police spying and police torture, this was a bold move indeed. The Alliance to End Repression (AER) is best remembered for their successful legal challenge to the Red Squad‘s unconstitutional activities.

Not to be overlooked, the Alliance to End Repression initiated the Cook County Special Bail Project because, as they saw it, “unfair and unconstitutional bail practices in Cook County constitute a major source of repression.” For the Alliance, organizing against the “repression of constitutional rights” included keeping people out of jail who didn’t need to be there while they waited for trial. In an era of intense brutality and overcrowding at Cook County Jail, the Alliance’s Special Bail Project kept thousands out of jail during the 1970s.

Two major bail reforms had come to Illinois in the 1960s. “Ten percent bail” eliminated bail bondsman and allowed detainees to pay ten percent of their bond directly in order to obtain release from jail. “Release on recognizance” (ROR) allowed people to be released while awaiting trial if they did not have the money for bail but had strong social support to ensure they showed up for court.

Rather than proclaim “mission accomplished,” the Alliance organized to provide bail funds for people who needed their ten percent and provided 300 volunteers to observe Cook County courts and interview detainees to help them obtain ROR bonds. Sadly, when federal funding for the Special Bail Project ran out, Cook County chose not to continue the program as it had been constituted under AER. Cook County Jail quickly became unconstitutionally overcrowded.

The work of the Alliance to End Repression reminds us that challenges to police brutality and shootings don’t have to be limited to marching in the streets. We need a complete transformation of police forces, court practices, and jails. I am proud to support SOUL in their efforts to seek bail reform and end mass incarceration in Cook County today.

[quotes and image from “A Democratic Society or A Police State in America: Which Will it Be?,” Alliance to End Repression flyer, Summer 1970, 2, Folder 6, Box 16, Alliance to End Repression Papers, Chicago History Museum Research Center]

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update: Philadelphia ballot question 2 to create a Department of Prisons.

One of my favorite books to teach is John Lewis Gaddis’ The Landscape of History. Gaddis contends “that the historian of the past is much better off than the participant of the present from the simple fact of having an expanded horizon.” (4) The more I write of my dissertation, the more I agree with Gaddis- being an on-the-ground actor is frustrating when you are sure that there are lots of variables at work that you can’t see.

I point this out because I tried to inform myself on Philadelphia’s ballot question 2, which offers a change to the city charter regarding Philadelphia Prison System’s place in the bureaucratic tangle of city agencies. I felt like I came up short, and indicated that I would probably vote “no” given the lack of good information. Much to my surprise– truly, because usually most everyone I write about is dead– Lou Giorla, commissioner of PPS, read my post and encouraged me to get in touch and ask some questions.

The long and the short of it is, according to the Commissioner, “yes” on the ballot question doesn’t change much administratively. PPS has been, since 1990, operating as a department independent from the Department of Public Welfare. Apparently, when this change was made organizationally but not to the charter (the answer to “why” confirms to me again that this would make an interesting research project). The issue came up again in 2009 when PPS sought some of the hiring and negotiation capacities that other agencies (the exempt hiring thing), such as the Fire Department and Police Department, have. However, because 2009 was a terrible time for local governments (you may recall that whole financial collapse thing), the measure was effectively tabled. The measure was revived in an effort to bring the charter into line with how government has been operating. This requires a ballot question to change the city charter. From what I understood the Commissioner as saying, this won’t interfere with the current functions of the Board of Trustees. There is a pretty no cost measure- the Commissioner said it would require “no new stationary” because again, the ballot question moves to ensure that the charter reflects an organic change in governance that has occurred over time.

On the issue of RISE, which I think for many people may be the bigger issue, the Commissioner noted that RISE is already somewhat integrated into PPS already because PPS works with such a large number of folks needing immediate access to reentry services because they may be in a PPS pretty briefly. In the past, RISE’s predecessor MORE operated separately from PPS, and was problematic as PPS was looking to do more for reentry. According to the Commissioner, bringing RISE into PPS will help it to have a better defined funding stream. I think this is pretty much in line with the “pros” I considered in the original post. A commenter on the post raised a good question (some of the comments went onto my About Me page, so I’ll post it here):

“I wonder about combining city re-entry programs under the same management as the prisons. The two are at odds. (One focuses on keeping people in, and its budget grows as the number of prisoners grow; the other focuses on keeping people out of prison.) Will programatic goals for prisons overwhelm those for re-entry?” I think that is a question worth chewing on, and this is a question that, if the ballot issue passes, we should continue to ask as people remain tethered to corrections systems long after release.

I’m still mulling over this new information and probably will be until I get into the ballot box, but overall, I think this is a good reminder that:

1. even as I write the story of one particularly messed up jail in Chicago, I should be paying attention to the jail in my own city, and

2. getting touch with your local officials can be really easy. Who knew?

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