American Prisons: A Study in American Social History Prior to 1915

American Prisons: A Study in American Social History Prior to 1915

American Prisons: A Study in American Social History Prior to 1915

American Prisons: A Study in American Social History Prior to 1915

Excerpt

The history of American prisons records the labors of several fairly clearly defined generations of builders and reformers and traces their notable strides toward penological realism. For more than a century the authorities have been chiefly absorbed in the struggle to accommodate growing convict populations and to reduce the burden of their maintenance, but each successive generation has made more or less significant changes in the correctional philosophy, the institutional technique, or the emotional appeal to the public. Only when able leaders succeeded in meeting insistent problems with workable programs and in rousing popular feelings to their support did concerted developments occur. Modern penologists have been somewhat inclined, because of their radically new conceptions of criminality, to depreciate the contributions of their predecessors; but, like every generation before them, they are coming to realize, after several years of practical administration, that they have inherited institutions and traditions whose evolution merits close study.

The task of tracing the fibers of culture that have woven in and out of American prison developments has provided an illuminating experience to the historian. Suggestive evidence concerning the nature of American society in its various historical and sectional stages has emerged from a consideration of the geographical, industrial, and cultural factors that have determined penal trends. The study has presented an opportunity to balance Europe's contribution of standards and techniques over against the ingenious native adaptations to practical problems. The rapid growth and partial industrialization of the nation have emerged as the primary influences, readily accounting for the greater development of American as contrasted with European penal systems. America's failure, in spite of many earnest attempts, to provide an adequate correctional system according to the standards of the day challenges the historian to discover the conditioning fissures in the social development of the nation, but such an undertaking would require a comprehensive study of the history of crime in America and must be left for another student. In planning the present project certain boundaries were demar-

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