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The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776-1941 Paperback – Mar 4 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (March 4 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521537835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521537834
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 866 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #856,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Deeply researched and deeply reflective, The Crisis of Imprisonment redefines the central themes of 19th and early 20th century American prison history. Its story of the rise and fall of contractual penal servitude shows how questions of imprisonment, prison labor, and the treatment of prisoners lay at the heart of ongoing struggles over the meaning of freedom and unfreedom in America. Few scholars have succeeded so well in tracing the reciprocal relations between the institutions of punishment and the broader fields of economic and political power with which they are connected. Written with clarity and conviction, this is a major new work on the formation of the American penal state." - David Garland, New York University

"Although there have been several fine studies of the thinking and influence of American prison reformers, McLennan has written a revealing study of the impact of popular politics, and especially of the prisoners themselves on the shaping and reshaping of state prison systems. She helps us understand the huge prison business of our times by analyzing controversies and prison revolts that led first to the development of contract prison labor then to its abolition in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." - David Montgomery, Yale University

"A timely, penetrating look into the horrors of the nineteenth-century prison system, its brutal-and brutalizing-convict labor system, and the mass of ordinary Americans who confronted its abuses and, ultimately, brought about its abolition." - Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents

"This is an extraordinary investigation and analysis of penal servitude and anti-prison labor campaigns in American history. Wonderfully insightful and illuminating, this work has much to teach us about where we've been and what we must consider in confronting the politics of legal punishment." - Bryan Stevenson, New York University School of Law, Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative

"One of the smartest books about punishment I have ever read. And this is not just a book about prisons. The story Rebecca McLennan narrates so powerfully in these pages-the controversial career of penal servitude in a liberal democratic republic--has much to tell us about the history of American society, politics, and institutions." - Michael Willrich, Brandeis University, author of City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago

"In a nation dedicated to liberty, the topic of the imprisoned deserves attention and the considerate analysis exhibited in this book. Essential." -Choice

Book Description

America's prison-based system of punishment has not always enjoyed the widespread political and moral legitimacy it has today. Unearthing fresh evidence from prison and state archives, McLennan shows how, in each of three distinct periods of crisis, widespread dissent culminated in the dismantling of old systems of imprisonment.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I would recommend this insightful read Sept. 5 2015
By Katie M - Published on
Format: Paperback
An extremely well-written, fascinating, and comprehensive history of the American prison system and the way in which social ideas concerning punishment vs rehabilitation have changed over time.I would recommend this insightful read.
Serious and Important Book Sept. 8 2015
By mar hevka - Published on
Format: Paperback
Terrific study that becomes more timely and more urgent with each year that passes since its publication. McLennan presents an altogether different and more complicated story, featuring prisoners, guards, administrators, penologists, private contractors, labor unions, and political figures and institutions in New York—the state that stood at the vanguard of national developments in the transformation of both prison life and the politics of punishment. McLennan charts the growth of a powerful and economically significant system of contract prison labor in the nineteenth century, which instituted and relied upon a brutal regime of industrial discipline that fits awkwardly (if at all) into Michel Foucault’s famous account of the modern prison. She also describes, with colorful detail, the fits and starts by which a coalition of forces (Reconstruction-era Republicans, unions, Democratic politicians in the Gilded Age, progressive reformers, former N.Y. Governors holding the reins of national power, and frequently the imprisoned themselves) sought to dismantle that system, often deploring the competition or the example of convict labor, but ultimately calling into question the equation between hard industrial work and just punishment.