so you’d like to add jails to your prison history syllabus.

When I started working on the history of American jails, I read a lot of crappy corrections textbooks that gave me a perception of American jail history that was at worst distorted, and at best flattened. It’s taken me some time to wade through the dregs to get to the good stuff. As such, I haven’t really dealt with jails as I’ve taught courses focused on prison history. I think this is problematic as pre-trial detention and short jail sentences are perhaps the most commonplace experiences of incarceration in this country today.

While jail historiography is still rather emergent (I’m doing my part), here are some rich pieces that might help you to incorporate the history of local incarceration and pre-trial detention into your syllabus (or your scholarship!). I did not include books already listed on my prison history reading list. This is by no means a comprehensive or definitive collection of jail scholarship, but rather, it’s a selection of pieces that might provide opportunities for historicizing jails. If access is an issue, I am happy to make any PDFs that I have available to you upon request. If I missed anything that you like, let me know and I’ll add it.

A word of caution- if you use sources on Walnut St. Jail during the early republic, be advised that it continued to be called a jail while it was operating as what we would call a state prison. I don’t think this distinction is stressed enough in the literature that deals with the rise of the Pennsylvania system. This transition is explored briefly in Negley K. Teeters,”Caleb Lownes of Philadelphia : 1754-1828: Administrator of the First Penitentiary in the World- The Walnut Street Jail,” The Prison Journal 43, no. 2 (October 1963), 34-45; the texts cited in footnote 14 are also instructive.

Frontier jails receive brief treatment in Rothman’s classic Discovery of the Asylum. There are a number of articles on 19th century jails that tend toward straight forward descriptions of conditions. One example of this is Philip D. Jordan “The Close and Stinking Jail,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 60, No. 1 (January 1969), 1-9.

Timothy J. Gilfoyle, “‘America’s Greatest Criminal Barracks’: The Tombs and the Experience of Criminal Justice in New York City, 1838-1897,” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 5 (July 2003), 525-54.

This should be a go-to nineteenth-century piece for historians because it is actually written by a professional, contemporary historian. You probably already know it. It really gets at how nasty nineteenth-century urban jails were. If you’re assigning anything on nineteenth-century Northern prisons, this article creates sharp contrast.

There was a pretty significant discourse about jails in the early twentieth century. Many interesting pieces are in the public domain and are digitally available. A few of these include:

American Prison Association semi-centennial, 1870-1920. County jails ‘in the light of the declaration of principles of 1870 (New York: American Prison Association, 1920).

This anthology was produced by the APA for their 50th anniversary because they realized that they includes some great short pieces such as “The Abolition of the County Jail,” by Frederick Howard Wines that captures the spirit of the jail abolition movement (as does this piece by his contemporary, Edith Abbott) and an overview of the state of jails by John L. Whitman, a former warden of Cook County Jail.

Kelly Lytle Hernández, “Hobos in Heaven: Race, Incarceration, and the Rise of Los Angeles, 1880–1910,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 3, 410–447.

I have a soft spot for hobos in history (Hans Mattick, below, was a teenage hobo) and this article does not disappoint. Hernández connects the “white scourge” of hobos to LA’s first jail crisis.

Chicago Community Trust, Reports Comprising the Survey of the Cook County Jail (Chicago: Calumet Publishing Co., 1922).

This study was commissioned to show the jail as it was and inform the planning of the new Cook County Jail. It includes a good discussion of social scientists they understood criminality in regard to jails. It includes a lot of advice that the builders of the jail ignored (this jail still in use today as Division 1).

Joseph F. Fishman with Vee Perlman, Crucibles of Crime: The Shocking Story of the American Jail (New York: Cosmopolis Press, 1923).

Fishman was a federal jail inspector who travelled the country to see the conditions that federal prisoners were detained in at county jails. This book is easy to read, sensational in tone, and captures the “schools for crime” discourse about jails prominent in the 1920s.

Myrl Anderson, Jail Administration (Springfield, IL: 1957).

A mid-century jail manual from a federal prisons administrator. If you like that kind of thing.

If you know of a great interwar or postwar / mid-century jail text, let me know- I am working on my contribution but I would love to hear about more research on that front. You may find especially great primary sources on the career of Anna Kross, the woman who ran Rikers during the 1950s and 1960s.

Hans W. Mattick, “The Contemporary Jails of the United States: An Unknown and Neglected Area of Justice,” in Handbook of Criminology, ed. Daniel Glaser (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1974), 777-848.

If I could only assign one piece on jails, this would be it. Mattick was a historically-minded scholar-activist who was regarded as “the architect of jail reform in Illinois,” a turn he took after working as assistant warden at Cook County Jail (full disclosure: Mattick is the focus of one of my dissertation chapters). In light of his legacy, this is a culminating expression of Mattick’s expertise. Mattick addressed the differences between prisons and jails, the history of American jails, the state of American jails in the 1970s (“if cleanliness is next to godliness, most jails lie securely in the province of hell” p.802), and the limits of jail reform in light of history. I would choose this over other works from the 1970s and the jail chapter in The Oxford History of the Prison

John Irwin, The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

This book remains the seminal criminal justice text on jails that depicts the San Francisco jail in the 1980s. The University of California has a new edition out with a great forward by Jonathan Simon. Irwin’s perspective was informed by his own experience with incarceration, which makes him an interesting historical actor in his own right.

John P. Walsh, The Culture of Urban Control: Jail Overcrowding in the Crime Control Era (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013).

This book is prohibitively expensive, but I think a selected chapter could provide students with helpful scholarly framing that would compliment contemporary news articles on jail issues at Rikers Island and Cook County Jail.

Loïc Wacquant, “Class, race & hyperincarceration in revanchist America,” Daedalus 139, no. 3 (Summer 2010), 74-90.

Wacquant situates contemporary jails within the wider criminal justice system and neoliberalism; I think this article is fine distillation of ideas he delves into in Prisons of Poverty. This article provides some interesting concepts for students to unpack.

UPDATE: 11/18/2016: “How Not to Build a Jail,” an article on the DC Jail from Reason would be interesting paired with news articles from the 1970s or selections from Goldfarb’s book. Also looking forward to City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 by Kelly Lytle Hernández, coming out in April 2017 from the Justice, Power, and Politics series at UNC Press.

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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.

 

federalism, prisoner rights, and realignment in California.

One of the small pleasures of each day is when the Stateline email comes through. Stateline is a round-up of state-focused news from the Pew Center on the States. I’ve been following correction realignment in California since the SCOTUS ordered a reduction to the state’s prison population in 2011. Realignment is a strange and captivating expression of the inconsistent dynamics of contemporary federalism. Today a story came through on the perceived outcomes of realignment.

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

If you aren’t familiar with realignment: California had too many bodies in its massive prison system. In Brown v. Plata (2011) the Court found that prison overcrowding was in violation of incarcerated peoples’ constitutional protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Court ordered California to reduce its prison population. Rather than release a large number of non-violent offenders, California reconfigured its criminal justice system to send lesser offenders- as the Times says, those who committed “nonviolent, nonserious and nonsexual offenses“- to county jails.

Today’s story from the San Francisco Chronicle begins with a significant caveat- there isn’t really much quantitative data, other than that the population numbers in state institutions are slowly going down, with scant changes to the overall population of the system (go here for weekly population figures). It’s worth noting that the Chronicle says the state is spending $6 billion dollars to alleviate the local strains of realignment, a high number given that its corrections budget is $9 billion dollars. I am guessing that the $6 billion includes preexisting state allocations to local jails, because otherwise is would make more fiscal sense to build more prisons.

There are some assumptions worth unpacking:

1. County jails provide more humane conditions.

A guiding assumption of realignment conflates reducing the prison population with a less “cruel and unusual punishment.” While the jails are arguably less crowded (the story shows jails having to undertake expansion projects), jails are generally absent the kind of programing and resources present in state correctional institutions. Counting local jails as equal to prisons, realignment does not account for the differences in the professionalization of jail and prison staff. While its up for debate whether  those differences are for good or ill, realignment does place the burden of humane punishment on population numbers. That’s a very low bar.

2. Devolution is good for local governments.

Brown said the different ways counties approach realignment is part of the beauty of returning control to local government.

“Some people want to see more alternative sanctions and rehabilitation programs, and in some areas that are more conservative, they like a more ‘lock ’em up’ philosophy,” Brown said. “Realignment is based on the idea of more local autonomy. … It’s not one size fits all.”

This was my favorite quote from the piece, because a federal intervention has led the state to local autonomy. This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, as Brown says, it can promote community corrections and rehabilitation in counties that what it. That does sound good!

But, on the other hand, it allows conservative areas opportunities for more punitive sanctions. That’s frightening to me. While I wouldn’t like to see more people in state prisons, the whole point of Brown v. Plata is that prisoners in state institutions have the protection of federal oversight. Those in county jails have much less access to the lobbying mechanisms that make cases like Brown v. Plata possible in the first place. Scattered across the state, it seems to me that it would be more difficult to have abuses remedied in jails across the state, and I would expect abuses to come with a massive influx in jail populations, if anything because that would lead to overcrowding and poorly trained new staff.

I would like to know more about how the money is being distributed to the counties. As the story notes, there is a lot of variability in how the realignment funds are spent in the state’s 58 counties. Variability raises some red flags, because it implies inconsistent standards.

3. Imprisonment in California state institutions curbs crime.

Republican critics are saying that realignment is leading to an uptick in crime. It’s funny to me that there are Republican critics. You’d think they would be excited for devolution, which was an ideal advanced by those two paragons of California Republicanism, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But I digress. The critics of realignment believe that California’s state prison system was doing an effective job of controlling crime. We know that states with high rates of crime have high incarceration rates (see page 5 of this Pew study). We also know that the experience of being incarcerated reduces wage earnings, life expectancy, social mobility and increases one’s chances to return to prison.

Interestingly, no critics from the left were cited. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has written,

What California needs is a true “realignment” (Governor Jerry Brown’s buzzword for reworking the state budget) of the prison system—away from mass incarceration and toward the many alternatives that are less expensive and more effective.

mass incarceration in america: advocacy, art, and the academy.

I am excited to be an organizer and speaker for a major event at Temple this fall. We are working hard to bring together top scholars, community members, artists, and activists for a day of rich conversation about the nature of America’s addiction to mass incarceration and what we might do to break it. You can find updates and further information about the event on our facebook page.
Mass Incarceration in America: Advocacy, Art, and the Academy
Conference and Teach-In
November 29, 2012 9-6 pm
Temple University: Tyler School of Art
Mass incarceration has been growing at an alarming rate throughout the United States for over thirty years. Although crime rates nationwide are falling, the industry of mass incarceration continues to expand. As we spend more on prisons than we do on education, the purpose of this teach-in is to educate the general public on the impact and stigma of criminalization this industry has on our

urban communities, public health, and sentencing laws.

Through illustrated lectures by nationally renowned scholars and inmates including Dan Berger, Todd Clear, Ernie Drucker, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Marie Gottschalk, Kay Harris, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Donna Murch, Melanie Newport, Raphael Sperry, Heather Ann Thompson, Tyrone Werts, and Mumia Abu Jamal, we will discuss the criminalization of communities, and the impact of that criminalization, through a range of perspectives grounded in the interests of Temple’s local communities.

This free day-long event will also highlight the implications of race, prison labor, and private industry within this important national debate.

Temple Contemporary has selected a number of works by artists including Aja Beech, Mary DeWitt, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Jackie Sumell, and Herman Wallace to complement and contribute to the day’s discussions.

Mass Incarceration in America: Advocacy, Art, and the Academy was initiated by Temple Contemporary’s Temple University Programming Advisory Council and is supported by Tyler School of Art, Temple University’s Architecture Department, and The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Temple University.

toward ‘engaged pedagogy.’

This month I am teaching a whirlwind course on Crime and Punishment in American History at a corrections facility in New Jersey. As I’ve prepared for my course, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from books on the Inside-Out reading list, especially bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. She writes:

“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who also believe that there is an aspect of  our vocation that is sacred; who believe that out work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential is we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” (13)

I think this graphic sums up why there is a tremendous need for states to look to classrooms as “a radical space of possibility” (12). I feel fortunate to be apart of the kind of change I’d like to see.