Federal Prison Reforms
A rigorous, yet humane, scientific, yet commonsense, progressive,
yet protective, program of penal reform.1
Hoover's administration was the first to give formal policy attention to federal prisons and prisoners. Under his leadership, prison administration, historically ignored, was transformed from an antiquated and rawly inadequate collection of penitentiaries into a model system. Remarkably, reforms to facilities and practices introduced in 1929 were implemented by 1933. Moreover, federal correctional practices were replicated, as intended, in several state prison systems. With the formation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1930, prison management was established as a formal policy function of the executive branch.
Before the mid- 1920s, federal prison administration did not appeal to scholars of criminology, the presidency, or social history. The most physically obtrusive and costly branch of the Justice Department attracted only occasional journalistic interest. Low appeal to students may be ascribed to the humdrum nature of prison routine and the drab, harsh qualities of the Atlanta, Leavenworth, and McNeil Island penitentiaries.2 The few scholars, like Harry Elmer Barnes, who engaged in prison studies aimed their research at state prisons.3 Prison management, including the Hoover reforms, is equally unappealing to scholars of the American presidency. Federal prisons