Encyclopedia of American Prisons

Encyclopedia of American Prisons

Encyclopedia of American Prisons

Encyclopedia of American Prisons


Original essays by corrections experts The United States has the lightest incarceration rate in the world and crime is one of the major driving forces of political discourse throughout the country. Information about penal institutions, imprisonment, and prisoners is important to everyone, from judges on the bench to citizens on the street. Now for the first time, a comprehensive reference work presents a full overview of incarceration in America. TheEncyclopediafeatures original essays by leading U. S. corrections experts, who offer historical perspectives, insights into how and why the present prison system developed, where we are today, and where we are likely to be in the future. Every important aspect of American prisons is covered, from the handling of convicts with AIDS to juvenile delinquents behind bars, from boot camps to life without parole, from racial conflict to sexual exploitation. Features more than 160 signed articles More than 160 signed articles byrecognized authorities are presented alphabetically by topic. The articles, ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 words, provide an overview of each subject and include a selective bibliography. The coverage introduces readers to individuals noted for their work with prisons (James Bennett, Dorothea Dix, Howard Gill); facilities renowned for setting precedents (Walnut Street Jail, Alcatraz, Marion); current policy, procedure, and program-oriented descriptions (contraband, boot camps, classification, technology); concise discussions of current prison issues (prisoners' rights, gangs, visits by the children of incarcerated women). Frequently the articles chart the historical evolution of a subject area, explore current issues, and predict future trends. Discusses vital issues The Encyclopedia also surveys and analyzes policies and procedures used in the past, such as chain gangs, building tenders, and "Sacred Straight" programs, as well as legislation that has shaped prison policy (such as theAshurst-Summers Act and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act). Offering a wealth of useful facts, this important new reference work contains a comprehensive name and subject index, internal cross-references, and a chronology of important events in prison history. The coverage encompasses historical and contemporary aspects of correctional institutions in the United States, discusses vital issues, and reports on the latest reaching findings. Photos of notable people and facilities accompany the text. This unique work fills a substantial reference need. Government officials, librarians, teachers, students, and professionals working within the corrections field will the coverage invaluable.


Although prisons were used in Europe as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they were not considered necessary by the founders of this country. A careful look at the development and use of prisons in the United States tells us much about ourselves, our view of humanity, our hopes and our fears. The literary and cinematic image of the prison has gripped the imagination of everyone who has ever contemplated punishment. Prisons, and those who live and work in them, have generated many stories, films, and legends.

The history of prisons is both colorful and full of controversy. Debates have raged over everything from philosophy to architecture. There have been miracles and setbacks, heroes and villains, in each state and in every institution. Most systems have a great deal in common; trends are easily discerned, and problems seem to transcend the decades.

There is something unmistakably American about the prison system we have created. Just as the solitary fortresses of the early 1900s attracted visitors from all over the world, American institutions are still drawing international attention. Today, over one million people are incarcerated-and we are not through yet. The money spent on building and running prison systems now exceeds that allocated to higher education in many states. The federal government and most states are presently engaged in a building program that will add over one hundred new prisons in the next ten years, and the budgetary allocations for incarceration will only increase. If statistics can be believed, the United States already incarcerates its citizens at a higher rate than any other country. Whether they be houses of darkness, warehouses for the socially unfit, “country clubs, ” or models of reform, prisons continue to haunt our American dream.

This work was compiled in the belief that everyone should be familiar with the history and current operations of American prison systems. Many of the entries in this encyclopedia begin with a historical discussion to help frame the issues. Any understanding of contemporary problems must begin with an appreciation for where we have been. The more we know about prisons, the better we can plan for their design and future use.

The entries included here are by no means exhaustive. That would have taken a great many more entries than we had room for, and far more than one volume. These entries, however, are critical to an understanding of prisons in America. Each is written by an author who knows the subject matter well and, in many cases, is preeminent in the field. We believe that these entries compose a comprehensive collection that tells the story of the people, places, and ideas behind the American prison system.

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