presenting at a bunch of conferences is a very good thing.

At some point in the last year, I told myself that I was going to take a conference break. Thankfully, that did not happen and I have been able to present at two conferences this fall, with the last one coming up this weekend. I feel fortunate in that conference travel has offered a reprieve from the solitary work of dissertation writing. My students hear this from me a lot, but I somehow need to be reminded that it applies to me, too: writing is a social process!

More importantly, however, these conferences have been an opportunity to integrate a diverse array of methodologies into my project. American Political Development (APD) and the “new institutionalism” are at the core of what I do as a policy historian, but I’ve really come to feel the limits of identifying as a particular variety of historian. In the course of writing my dissertation, a central issue for me has been making sure that my emphasis on policy also includes people making policy decisions– and at a jail, that includes not just sheriffs and jail administrators but staff, lawyers, activists, and jail detainees and inmates who move in a lot of different contexts. If anything, part of the utility of presenting at three conferences in six weeks has been helping me to see the worlds around the jail. While I’ve always been excited about this particular story of Cook County Jail, engaging a broader range of methods is helping me to see why jails more broadly matter in so many different historical conversations.

Some lessons from each conference / conference paper:

  • Association for the Study of African American Life and History:“A Jail Without Bars”: Winston Moore, Cook County Jail, and the Local Origins of Mass Incarceration

This is a conference I must attend every year– in terms of method and quality of scholarship, ASALH had some of the most cutting edge work I’ve seen. Wow. Our panel was hugely inspiring in this regard. With my paper, I wanted to write the rough draft of a journal article about Winston Moore. As readers of my website know, Moore captivates me. As there are explosive conversations happening in our field about the role black people played in the rise of the carceral state, I wanted to think about Moore not just as a black elite, but how the black people in his 80% black jail understood his power (and their own). If anything, I found that silent majority frameworks that emphasize class and respectability can mean overlooking “silent” majorities that actually marshall a lot of power– in this case, the largely black jail population whose Constitutional claims helped to get Moore fired.

  • Society for U.S. Intellectual History: A Brief History of the Idea of Jail Reform

I will admit that before I went, I actually looked up what exactly intellectual history is because I wasn’t entirely sure I could do intellectual history. This panel was born out of a conversation on intellectual history and policing on the USIH blog after Ferguson. I ended up trying to trace the intellectual history of the postwar idea of jail reform, which allowed me to connect the work of Myrl Alexander, a 1950’s Bureau of Prisons head, to Hans Mattick, a Cook County Jail assistant warden who became an influential thinker on this topic in the 1970s. With this perspective, I was overwhelmed by the way that Cook County Jail was not just one of the nation’s largest jails but also, as it is today, the epicenter of thinking about what jails are for. What I really took away from this panel and the brilliant papers presented is that when you look at the ideas that informed the rise of the carceral state, you see so plainly the intentionality of its construction. There is no space for unintended consequences in my interpretation of this story.

  • American Society for Legal History: The LEAA at Cook County Jail

This panel is a dream come true— I cannot believe that I finally get to be on a whole panel about the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration with some of the most remarkable women in our field. I am so obsessed with the LEAA that I once thought to do a dissertation on it (that APD passion for federal agencies runs deep), so I promise to be effusive and hyperbolic when I present this weekend. The view of the LEAA is so dang weird from the county jail level in that it funded jail construction and programs for bail reform to keep people out of jail, as well as provided rationales for the Department of Justice to sue the jail. This paper motivated me to request some files from the Ford Library, and I’m glad I did– my understanding of the federal case against the jail has totally changed as a result.

[UPDATE: Sara Mayeux posted a very comprehensive panel recap over at Legal History blog– this panel was one of my very favorite that I’ve been on and I am so glad to have a record of it.]

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talking with the chicago reporter about jail deaths.

I talked with the Chicago Reporter about deaths at Cook County Jail. While they have looked into more recent incidents, there is a deeper history of deaths at the jail that includes murders, suicides, murders covered up as suicides, likely murders by staff covered up as suicides or murders by inmates… and not to mention deaths by medical neglect, failure to properly care for people who are suicidal, and deaths by disease or that occurred under medical care.

It is important to note that in the history of the jail, the care that inmates and detainees receive at Cermak Hospital and in the other jail divisions is probably better than it has ever been and there are a lot of good people at the jail working hard to provide healthcare in very difficult conditions. Tragically for many, the care they receive at the jail will be the only time they ever get access to the care they need. We need a reconfiguration of our social priorities when that is the case.

In the historical record it is difficult to find evidence of these deaths as they have not been consistently reported to newspapers and, as far as I can tell, there are no official documents that exist from my period of research (1950s-1990s) in which the jail even kept track of these incidents. For our own moment, transparency and accountability is key.

One silence in this piece is the courts. Should sick or chronically ill people be sent to jail, particularly to await trial? Is it better if someone does await trial in jail so they can get access to needed healthcare? While the jail lacks discretion– as noted in the piece– judges have the capacity to answer these questions in bond hearings and citizens must find ways to weigh in as well.

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books for fall 2015.

If you are taking History 2219 or History 3296/3280 at Temple University Ambler Campus this fall, welcome! The books available for the course are available as ebooks or can be purchased used (often for a lower cost than renting them from the bookstore). Both classes will use a mix of books and articles; articles will be available on Blackboard by the start of the classes on August 24. Please contact me if you have any questions about the course.

History 2219, Cold War Culture in the United States

Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America by Audra Wolfe

The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left by Landon Storrs

History 3296/3280, Crime and Punishment in the United States 

There have been some behind-the-scenes tech issues at Temple that led some to believe the topic for the course has been changed. Have no fear: we will be studying Crime and Punishment this fall.

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

Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David Oshinsky

Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City by Marilynn S. Johnson

finding winston moore: the original psychologist jail warden.

If you’re coming here by way of The Marshall Project piece I wrote about psychologist and Cook County Jail administrator Winston Moore, welcome! If you’re interested in learning more about Cook County Jail history, you can read an outline of my dissertation, as well as these posts which will tell you a bit about:

You might also be interested in the questions I have about a jail reform discourse that centers on the mentally ill.

When I first set out to write a history of American jails in the postwar era, I had no idea where to start. I started out looking at multiple cities and counties, trying to find a few that might make a good case study. It became clear to me that there are a lot of different kinds of jails. County jails, city jails, regional jails, state jails; single-site jails and multi-site jails; jails run by correctional professionals and jails run by regular folks. I felt a little like Goldilocks in search of a feasible dissertation project that was just right (i.e.: finishable and not too expensive to research).

I stumbled onto the story of Winston Moore as I combed through thousands of Chicago Tribune articles. That people in his time called him “the first negro jail warden” caught my eye– but then, over the ensuing ten years worth of newspapers, the story of a tough-talking, larger than life figure emerged. He didn’t sound like anybody I’ve ever read about– and made me wonder– why have I never heard about him? I decided I would do whatever I could to answer that question, and as a result, I built my dissertation around Moore’s exciting and tumultuous years at Cook County Jail. The Marshall Project piece represents three years of work and about 100 pages of my dissertation.

Moore was not an easy man to find in the archive. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department told me they don’t keep any records over ten years old. Moore wrote the occasional comment in magazines like Ebony and Jet, but didn’t publish much else. He seems to have left behind no papers. So, I had to search for him in Chicago’s archives. I found him in legal documents and official reports housed in the ACLU-Illinois records at the University of Chicago. I found him in the papers of his harshest critics– including the John Howard Association records and the Hans Mattick papers at the Chicago History Museum (fortunately, Mattick was something of a hoarder). I found him in the papers of activists who worked with him, through the League of Women Voters-Cook County papers at the University of Illinois Chicago and the Alliance to End Repression papers at the CHM. And of course, I found Moore back in the newspapers where I started. Chicago’s press was fascinated by his honesty and his contradictions and the roller-coaster drama of his administration.

Like all jail administrators, Moore was limited by his context– the War on Crime and the Urban Crisis made running a jail extremely difficult. He was limited by his own managerial capacities, his struggle to play politics, his staff, his budget. But most of all, Moore said the jail itself was his greatest limitation.

“The hardest thing to do though, has been to outlive this institution’s damn awful past. What we need most of all is a new history.”[1]

As Nneka Jones Tapia takes the helm, I hope she’ll remember her institution’s damn awful past and I wish her the best as she makes a new history.

My piece is referenced in this Pacific Standard piece about psychologists running correctional institutions.

[1] Rick Soll, “Winston Moore: Tough not enough,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1973, 50.

how your local jail became hell.

Excited to have contributed to this piece of important reporting- “How your local jail became hell” by Ryan L. Cooper of The Week. I am proud to be on the record that human dignity and constitutional protection do not come cheaply. Something I believe more strongly since talking to Ryan last summer is that bail reform and pre-trial services are essential components of the struggle to transform our nation’s jails, in large part because so much of the worst of the jail crisis can be avoided by not detaining people before trial at all.

If you’d like a reference for the statistic I provided about jail expansion in the postwar era, take a gander at Jails: Intergovernmental Dimensions of a Local Problem from 1984. This is one of my favorite sources for understanding the jail buildup that predated the War on Drugs.

If you’re coming to my site by way of Ryan’s piece, here’s a description of my dissertation research on the history of Cook County Jail and my takes on the jail construction conundrum, historicizing the Vera Institute jail report, and resources if you want to read more about jail history.

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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.

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

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.

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)

reviving bail reform: from the alliance to end repression to chicago community bond fund

“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.

[UPDATE, Aug. 19, 2015]: Very excited to see that the tradition of grassroots bond intervention moves forward: the Chicago Community Bond Fund has launched. Their mission:

“The Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. Through a revolving fund, CCBF supports individuals whose communities cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence.”

[UPDATE, Oct. 6, 2015]: You can donate to the Chicago Community Bond Fund here.

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