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October 5, 2020

Watching the Eastern State Penitentiary video and thinking about other (in)famous US prisons past and present

As mentioned last week, Tuesday's class is to be devoted to the history of early prisons in the United States as told through a 53-minute documentary titled simply "Eastern State Penitentiary."  My savvy daughter astutely mentioned to me today that, in this Zoomy world, students might prefer watching this video on their own rather than being "forced" to watch it during the class hour.  If this is true, I wanted to provide this link to the full 53-minue documentary.  Assuming I can get the technology to work, I am still planning to show this video in class on Tuesday.  But you are welcome to watch at your pace (or again) as you see fit.

In this post (and a bit in class), we might talk further about Eastern State Penitentiary or more generally about the reality that time in jail or prisons is now something of a modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website.  In addition, there are lots of other (in)famous prisons that tell stories about not only American crime and punishment, but also stories about America.  A number of notable Ohio-centric stories are to be found within in the history, as documented by this book entitled "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons."  That book is summarized this way:

With the opening of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1896, the state legislature had put in place "the most complete prison system, in theory, which exists in the United States."  The reformatory joined the Ohio Penitentiary and the Boys Industrial School, also central-Ohio institutions, to form the first instance of "graded prisons; with the reform farm on one side of the new prison, for juvenile offenders, and the penitentiary on the other, for all the more hardened and incorrigible class."  However, even as the concept was being replicated throughout the country, the staffs of the institutions were faced with the day-to-day struggle of actually making the system work.

The Ohio State Reformatory referenced in this passage is located in Mansfield, and is now this historic site.   And if you are ever looking for some web-surfing fun, check out these additional links to some good sites about some of the United States' most (in)famous prisons:

Though we will not discuss prison history or prison practices too much in the week ahead as we shift into a discussion of sentencing law and the (non-capital) sentencing process, I start this unit with these materials because I think it important that everyone keep thinking about both the theory and practices of imprisonment as a form of punishment as we get into the nitty-gritty of modern sentencing doctrines.

In addition, if you are really interested in any aspects of the realities of prison past or present, so many aspects of prisons would make for great final paper topics.  And if you just want to spend time watching videos about prison realities, check out these links:

As always, I welcome tips for other viewing (or reading) in the comments.

October 5, 2020 in Class activities, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink


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