Social Justice Teaching Resources (1974)
The Correctional System
Instructor: Paul Takagi
When I was a sociology graduate student in the early 60s at a nearby university, I was invited by a graduate student friend at Berkeley to sit in on a seminar taught by Erving Goffman and David Matza. Dave lectured that evening on the various theoretical schools of deviance, identifying the Chicago school, the functionalists, the labeling school, and the correctional view, which he dismissed outright. I was then, as I am today, primarily interested in how people faced up to the complexities and contradictions of punishing the convicted, and I walked away from Dave's lecture feeling out-of-step from the mainstream of criminological theorizing. More recently, Taylor et al. (1973) also dismissed the correctional view, to the extent that it did not even warrant a listing in the index.
The dismissal of the correctional view has created a lacuna in a field, which, prior to World War II, contained some of the best works in criminology. Orlando Lewis (1922), Harry E. Barnes (1926); (1930), Blake McKelvey (1936), Rusche and Kirchheimer (1939), and the Modern Criminal Science Series that included the works of Saleilles (1911), Tarde (1912), and Aschaffenburg (1913) reveal how the theories of crime, criminal responsibility and punishment in the various stages of Euro-American history have a close relation to the prevailing state of the political economy.
The powerful socialization effects of graduate studies made me falter a bit in my convictions as I initially tried to teach the prison/corrections course as a problem in formal organization (Cressey, 1961; Skyes, 1958; Goffman, 1959; Cloward et al., 1960; Clemmer, 1940; Etzioni, 1961; Blau, 1955; etc.), but it just didn't come off. I had for several years worked in probation, parole, and as a counselor at San Quentin Prison, and there was little correspondence between what was practiced and what sociologists had to say about the correctional apparatus. More seriously, l had pushed aside my 12 months in Manzanar, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans in World War II, where life behind barbed wire fence and gun towers, although not as physically repressive, nevertheless approximated the routines in a maximum security prison. In both places, officials practiced their assumptions about powerless people. In Manzanar, for example, we were required to demonstrate our reformation by taking a loyalty oath. If a person failed to cooperate, it meant a transfer to a more secure facility (Tule Lake). From there several hundred people were committed to federal prisons as draft evaders while others were banished from the United States. Those who elected to swear their allegiance had, in effect, enlisted or military service to fight a war between imperialist nation-states, while the others were paroled to labor in the nation's agricultural and urban factories.
"The Japanese problem" created out of racism and political repression resulted in solutions based upon the need for socially useful labor. This is the history of punishment. The events of the 1960s jarred my sensibilities. It was, and continues to remain, a slow process to re-learn what I knew about punishment, to integrate the literature of the 1960s and 1970s on racial and political repression into a theory of punishment (Malcolm X, 1964; Cleaver, 1968; Jackson, 1970; Melville, 1971; Davis, 1971; etc.), and to refute the predominant themes in punishment-deterrence, reformation, the protection of society or of the individual -- as nothing but rhetorical justifications for social revenge.
At this time I believe the only honest, straightforward, and logical interpretation of punishment is social revenge on the one hand, and the stages of capitalism and the need for socially useful labor on the other. The latter consideration came to be adopted much later in history as the poor were increasingly controlled by the criminal laws. The ancients, however, were primarily concerned with the restoration of equity, and the idea of punishment was to force the convicted to share as much as possible, the loss and suffering of the victim. But beginning around the 16th century, the convicted were sold to private entrepreneurs, to fight mercantile wars, to man the galleys, or transported to develop colonial territories, while the rich and privileged were permitted to pay fines or to do penance.
The reform Walnut Street Prison, the first prison in the world, was constructed in Philadelphia in 1790. Contrary to those who argue that the construction was influenced by the ideology of 18th century rationalism and reform (Rothman, 1971: 58-61), it confined mainly debtors and petty property offenders. The post-Revolutionary War period produced a serious economic depression and social unrest among the poor.
The first prison was constructed to punish the dissidents, and indeed, the ideas of William Penn were highly influential. However they had nothing to do with humanitarian ideals. His Great Law of 1682 provided that all land and goods of the convicted should be liable (escheated) to make satisfaction to the parties wronged to the limit twice its value; and for the poor, the convicted should be required to work in prison until the injured party is satisfied. Penn's ideas were much closer to the concepts of social revenge and useful labor than they were to Beccaria's moral calculus.
A system of behavior modification was introduced in the Walnut Street Prison, the system of secondary reinforcement (token economy) so widely used in today's prisons, except that in Walnut Street Prison it was not token. Each prisoner was given fair pay for his/her labor. The prisoner was debited for the cost of maintenance, and an additional sum was deducted for the prisoner's share of tools. The prisoner was also required to pay the costs of the trial, as well as a fine to the State. If there was a balance against the prisoner at the time of expiration of sentence, the person was retained until it was liquidated.
Until 1890 or so, the operation of prisons was a highly profitable venture for the State and for private entrepreneurs who purchased or leased convict labor. Even young boys from the New York House of Refuge were indentured as cabin boys to America's expanding fleet of clipper ships to challenge Great Britain's worldwide mercantilism. Young girls, however, were indentured into what was then called "housewifery." The period of indenture was indefinite. The prison population in the United States remained relatively stable during the first half of the 19th century.
The years following 1850 and the first two decades of the 20th century represent the second wave of prison constructions. The burgeoning prison population along with two related developments, racism and the labor movement, led to reforms, namely, the adoption of probation, parole, and I the indeterminate sentence law, to alleviate the pressures of a growing penal population.
Prison Population, United States and Territories 1850 - 1890
Source: Miller (l974). Also Lombroso and Ferrero (1895: vi).
The penal reforms at this time can only be understood within the context of a number of interrelated issues. Only recently have criminologists begun to study the origins and developments of these reforms, and a great deal more research needs to be done. Let me cite a passage from one historical work to set the state for my discussion of two of these issues -- racism and the labor movement.
By 1854 the gold fields of California had panned out, the state had not yet established a stake agricultural economy and California along with the rest of the nation was in the throes of an economic depression. One area of the nation's economy was not affected - the shipping industry. The American clipper ship linked California with Kwantung to cover the distance in 30 days, eclipsing the old sailing vessel time by almost one-half. The tonnage of the clippers was almost 2,000 compared to a ship of 450 tons, and on a single voyage, 500 Chinese immigrants represented the equivalent of $37,000 in passage fees (Barth, 1964).
Several contributing factors, some independent of one another, resulted in over 16,000 Chinese arrivals to California in 1854, an increase of four-fold over the previous years and two to eight times more for each year thereafter for the next 20 years (Coolidge, 1909; Sandemeyer, 1939). The China of this period was in shambles brought about by the aggressive colonial policies of the British East India Trading Company which promoted the Opium Wars that completely destroyed the economy of China. The ensuing Taiping Rebellion and the natural disasters seriously dislocated the people of China. Thus, a highly disciplined and technically competent labor pool became available when suddenly there was a tremendous need for labor in the western United States.
Since the average Chinese laborer did not have the resources to pay his way across the Pacific, he signed a contract with a representative of the shipping company, or with an intermediary, to work for a period of three to ten years under indentured servitude. Similar to the auctioning of slaves in the South, commission merchants in San Francisco advertised the services of Chinese for specified period of years. The anti-Chinese movement began almost immediately.
Organized labor led the movement against the Chinese. Labor's indictment of the Chinese originally began as an indictment of the contract labor system, but the inability or unwillingness of the state legislature and the courts to control the abuses of the system, and the continued support of the Chinese by the capitalists in railroad, mining, and land reclamation projects, resulted in a generalized indictment of the Chinese.
It had been supposed that the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad (1869) would bring forth an era of prosperity; but it was, on the contrary, the occasion of widespread unemployment. Land did not continue to rise in value, the change from steamship to railroad transportation caused more workers to be unemployed, freight rates remained inordinately high, and thousands of white and Chinese workers were discharged upon the California labor market. The white working classes centered their ill feelings upon railroads, corporations and the Chinese.
Except for individual capitalists who defended the Chinese so long as they found Chinese labor useful, and the occasional editorialists, notably Mark Twain, who condemned the outrages committed against the Chinese, California from its earliest days had been anti-Negro, anti-Chinese, anti-corporation, and pro-white workers. In every political campaign, it was a contest between the political parties as to which could take the furthermost anti-Chinese position. The anti-Chinese agitators included organized labor, politicians, and officials of municipal and state governments. After the completion of the railroad, anti-Chinese agitators included members of Congress. In 1882, the first of the Chinese exclusion acts was enacted with provisions to severely restrict the shipping companies' importation of contract laborers; eventually, contract labor was prohibited by statute.
The abolition of contract labor threatened the highly profitable convict lease and contract labor systems. Although the states continued to use convict labor under the piece-price, state account, and state-use systems, the prisons were never again able to show a profit. Individual states enacted their own legislation. In New York, Brockway, the superintendent of the highly acclaimed Elmira Reformatory, was outwardly belligerent toward the New York legislative Prison Labor Reform Commission charged with the investigation of, among other things, a method other than the system of contract prison labor (Brockway, 1912: 286-290). Brockway and other prison officials feared the adverse influence of idleness or aimless occupation as frankly "disastrous" and "calamitous." The widely held belief among prison officials that idleness, overpopulation, and mindless prison labor, which characterized the late 19th century prisons, would result in prisoner rebellions, undoubtedly contributed to the adoption of probation and parole as inexpensive methods of controlling the convicted. Some years later, in defense of the indeterminate sentence law and parole, which apparently were under sharp attack and criticism, Illinois commissioned an impartial survey to inquire: "Should the indeterminate sentence and parole be abandoned or continued?" The commission reported, among other findings, the following:
Back in California, the effects of the anti-Chinese agitations were reflected in the racial composition of the California prison population. In 1854 when the Chinese arrived in great numbers, the percentage of Chinese prisoners at San Quentin was 2.6. It fluctuated around 6 percent for the next ten years, a period during which the Chinese were forbidden to testify against a white person. In effect, a Chinese person could not defend himself against a white accuser. It was not until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment that the Chinese were permitted to give evidence against a white person. By then, the Chinese penal population had increased to 12 percent in a total population in which 8.7 percent were Chinese. The Chinese were literally discarded as the social usefulness of their labor diminished following the construction of the railway; the percentage of Chinese in the state's prisons increased even further and hovered around 19 percent from 1879 to 1883. It slowly declined in the next 17 years to 4.1 percent in 1900 (Berecochea, 1974).
The experiences of the Chinese in the 19th century are instructive on the relations between racism, labor usefulness, and punishment. What happened to the Chinese then is precisely what is happening to people of color today. The powerful and passionate writings of James Boggs (1970) captures this as he characterizes the labor of black people today as rendered socially useless by cybernation and the export of jobs by multinational companies. James O'Connor (1973) also notes this, pointing to the existence of a "surplus population" or technological unemployment. Both writers obscene that the role of the State is to prevent minority and radical movements from collaborating and strengthening by criminalizing this population; the State, short of that, co-opts the movement through poverty programs, or neutralizes it through promises of legal redress, for example, Brown vs. Board of Education, affirmative action, and so on. But let me return to my discussion of changes at the turn of the 20th century. While parole and probation were rapidly adopted by the states, there was considerable hesitation in the acceptance of the indeterminate sentence by the states; those that did, incorporated it some several years later. Parole was adopted by California in 1893-94, and the indeterminate sentence some 23 years later. This was the pattern in most of the states. The indeterminate sentence was to be a system of punishment to fit the offender rather than the crime, and this required a method of classification to identify classes of convicts to sense varying sentences. Although the New York House of Refuge (about 1825) indentured boys and girls under indefinite sentences, this procedure was not exactly indeterminate in the sense that a specific offense carried a minimum and maximum within which an official, other than a judge, arrived at a particular sentence. Thus, when the Congress of Criminal Anthropology convened in Paris in August of 1889, no state in the union had incorporated into law the indeterminate sentence as a matter of penal policy for adult prisoners. The problems to be solved were sharply drawn by participants at the Congress.
The turn of the 20th century was a critical period of transition for theoreticians and practitioners of penal philosophy. The debate among the members at this 1889 conference was not so much the method of classification, although there were some disagreements, but the need to develop a method of individual punishment and more importantly, credentialed functionary, other than a judge, to classify prisoners, to administer the punishment, and to determine sentences. The world of criminologists at this time was aware of and impressed with the work of Dr. H. D. Hey, the medical director of Elmira Reformatory. Dr. Wey's treatment consisted of special dieting, bathing, massage, gymnastics, and school work. The treatment led Havelock Ellis to comment: '"The experiments in the treatment of the criminal which are being carried on at Elmira are probably of more wide-reaching significance than any at present carried on elsewhere" (Ellis, 1896: 264). The number of prisoners treated, however, totaled only eleven, and the absence of a treatment applicable to greater numbers led Ferri to comment:
The development of individualized punishment Rich emerged around 1906 was called the "new psychology" or the "Boston Group" (Witmer, 1946). The group included William James, G. Stanley Hall, Adolf Meyers, and Heir students, H. H. Goddard and William Healy. Dr. William Healy (1915) was by far the most influential as he directed the first juvenile psychiatric clinic founded in 1909 in Chicago. In the meantime, the politically conservative but reform oriented Judge Harvey Baker, the first juvenile court judge in Boston, aware of Dr. Healy's work In Chicago, strongly urged:
Following this, Dr. Healy was recruited to become the first director of Judge Baker's Clinic, founded in Boston in 1912. This was the beginning of the Child Guidance Clinic movement.
The principles of the Clinic were, at once, an explanation of crime and delinquency and a justification for individual punishment, which could be performed upon a large number of people by employing psychologists and social workers. In this way, Dr. Healy and his followers became the mandarins in juvenile justice, and it can be safely said that the ideas of William Healy, and later, August Aichhom (1935), dominated practices in juvenile corrections well into the 1960s. The technocratic problem posed by Ferri and others before the turn of the 20th century was finally solved. The psychiatric model was not adopted by adult corrections until the 1940s. Although the majority of the states (22 of 26) enacted indeterminate sentence legislation after 1910, the chief reason may have been economic, i.e., to ease an overburdened penal population. The several developments in adult corrections in the early 20th century -- the Americanization movement (Osborne, 1916), the sterilization programs (Gosney, 1929; Woodside, 1950), an industrial system of classification in the Federal system, and the later adoption of the psychiatric model -- all require closer examination and an interpretive order.
The foregoing, however, highlights some of the background on corrections.
I have taught the corrections course on four previous occasions, changing the format each time, sometimes for reasons beyond my control, but also because of changes within me which I have already discussed. This summer (1974), I'm teaching the course for the fifth time, limiting the class size to 50, presenting tightly organized lectures to lay down the origins and developments of modern corrections, limiting the number of guest lecturers, and arranging field trips to three penal institutions -- Atascadero, a prison hospital for the criminally insane, Karl Holton School for Boys to obscene the application of I-Levels and behavior modification, and the adult women's institution at Frontera. The students in the class are encouraged to engage in praxis, called special projects for extra credit, and to report on their activities at the end of the quarter.
Atascadero and Karl Halton are visited because, beginning around the mid-1960s, corrections have been increasingly attracted to behavioral psychology as the new system of punishment. Although this is an area that I have not completely worked out, it seems to me that propositions generated from small group research have led to methodologies and techniques in brainwashing. Sheriff's study on group standards, Asch's study on compliance, Harvey's study on evaluation of performances, and Joseph Berger's study on expectation structures, combined with B. F. Skinner's work on operant conditioning, are the fundamental principles upon which Edgar Schein (1962) and James McConnell (1970) candidly discuss brainwashing as the new direction in penal punishment. The descriptions of routines in the adjustment centers (Jackson, 1970) bear a remarkable resemblance to Professor Edgar Schein's methodologies (Penal Digest International, 1972: 4); behavior modification, reality therapy, and transactional analysis represent the more sophisticated techniques. Atascadero and Karl Halton School for Boys provide us with a glimpse of these current trends.
San Quentin and Vacaville are becoming increasingly difficult to visit. Earlier this year, I was invited to address a Chicano prisoner group at Vacaville. Before being admitted inside, I was asked by prison officials to give the usual identification, but in addition, I was asked for my social security number, driver's license number, membership in all voluntary and professional organizations, and to sign a waiver to be photographed by prison officials. In the meeting with the prisoners, two guards were always present, we were observed through one-way mirrors, and undoubtedly tape-recorded. The women's prison at Frontera continues to remain relatively open. In our work with women prisoners, we visit, send information (statistics, studies, books, etc.), and most important of all, participate in discussions on the politics of punishment.
For some students, visiting a prison turns out to be zoo watching, but for others, it can be a profound political experience. As Bob Wells, the one time condemned black prisoner who pulled 46 years, told me recently, the power of the people got me out of prison." And one of the persons to organize mass support for Bob Wells was a former student in the corrections class who made the contact on one of these field trips.
Baker, Harvey Humphrey
Barnes, Harry E.
Brockway, Zebulon R.
Bruce, Andrew A., et al.
Cloward, Richard et al.
Coolidge, Mary Roberts
Cressey, Donald (ed.)
Gosney, Ezra Seymour
Lombroso, Caesar and William Ferrero
McConnell, James V.
Miller, Martin B.
Osborne, Thomas Mott
Penal Digest International, The
Rusche, George and Otto Kirchheimer
Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence
Schein, Edgar H.
Taylor, Ian, Paul Walton, and Jock Young
Wright, Chester W.
Collected and Organized by James P. Brady
1. Repression and Rebellion -- Prisoners in the 1970s
Richard X Clark, The Brothers of Attica (pp. 20-122). New York: Links Books, 1973.
Min Sun Yee, "Death on the Yard." Ramparts (April 1973).
II. The Industrial Revolution and the Origins of Imprisonment
Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer, "Mercantilism and the Rise of Imprisonment" (pp. 24-52); "Changes in the Form of Punishment" (pp. 53-61); "The Abolition of Transportation" (pp. 114-115); "Limits of Modern Prison Reform" (pp. 152-155), in Punishment and Social Structure. New York: Russell and Russell, 1968.
Blake McKelvey, "Convict Labor and Pedagogical Penology" (pp.93-125), in American Prisons. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1972.
Harry E. Barnes, "Prison Origins" (pp. 131-137) and "Progress of Penology" (pp. 213-221), in The Story of Punishment. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1972.
Orlando Lewis, "The Early Developments of Prison Labor in New York" (pp. 131-139), in The Development of American Prisons and Prison Customs, 1776-1845. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1967.
III. Punishment in the Non-Industrial American South: Slavery Redefined
Blake McKelvey, "Southern Penal Developments" (pp. 172-189), in American Prisons. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1972.
Mark Carleton, "Punishment for Profit: 1835-1880" (pp. 6-47) and " 'Judicious' State Administration: 1901-1920" (pp. 85-101), in "Politics and Punishment: History of the Louisiana Prison System" (pp. 102-107, 118-121), in The North Carolina Chain Gang. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1969.
IV. From Production to Rehabilitation: The Rise of "Scientific" Penology and the Treatment Ideal
J.P. Byers, "Correction and Prevention," in Prison Labor. Volume 11. Edited by C.R. Henderson. New York: Russell Sage, 1910.
Stagg E. Whitin, "Economic Status of Penal Servitude." National Committee on Prisons, 1912.
John P. Frey, "Trade Union Attitudes Towards Prison Labor." Proceedings of National Conference on Charities and Corrections, 1912.
Samuel Gompers, "Unions and Prisons." Harper's Weekly (April 1914).
M.N. Goodnow, "Turpentine: Impressions of the Convict Camps of Florida." Survey (May 1, 1915).
W.D. Saunders, "Cleaning Out North Carolina's Convict Camps." Survey (May 15, 1915).
Andrew A. Bruce et al., "The Justification for the Indeterminate Sentence and the Parole" (pp. 48-55), in The Workings of the Indeterminate Law and the Parole System in Illinois. Montclair: Patterson Smith, 1968.
Anonymous (prisoner), "The Indeterminate Sentence." Atlantic Monthly (September 1911).
Moya Woodside, "Foreword" and "Introduction" (pp. xiiixv, and 13, 26-39, 50-55); "Negroes and Sterilization" (pp. 82-87); "Biennial Reports (statistics)" (pp. 26-27, 30-31, 194-195), in Sterilization in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.
Paul Popenoe, "Success on Parole After Sterilization." Proceedings of the 51st Annual Session of the American Association for the Study of the Feebleminded, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 46, 1927; "Eugenic Sterilization in California." Journal of Social Hygiene (January 1928).
Charles E. Newman, "Concepts of Treatment in Probation and Parole Supervision" (pp. 279-289), in Probation and Parole. Edited by Robert Carter and Leslie Wilkins. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1970.
V. The Collapse of the Rehabilitation Myth and the Revolution Behind Walls: Scientific Repression and Deepened Social Control
Alan Wolfe, "Political Repression and the Liberal Democratic State." Monthly Review (December 1971).
Eldridge Cleaver, "Domestic Law and International Order" (pp. 128-137), in Soul on Ice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
Jessica Mitford, "The Indeterminate Sentence" (pp. 79-94) and "Clockwork Orange" (118-137), in Kind and Usual Punishment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.
Huey Newton, "The Penal Colony" (pp. 247-270), in Revolutionary Suicide. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
Eldridge Cleaver, "Affidavit #1: 1 am 33 Years Old" (pp. 3- 17), in Post-Prison Writings and Speeches. New York: Vintage, 1969.
VI. The Imprisonment and Control of Women
Jessica Mitford, "Women in Cages" (pp. 1429), in Kind and Usual Punishment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.
Kitsi Burkhart, "Women in Prison." Ramparts (June 1971).
VII. Political Prisoners: The Sociopolitical Thought of the Imprisoned Rebels
Johnny Spain, "The Black Family and the Prisons." Black Scholar (October 1972).
George Jackson, "Towards the United Front" (pp. 156-162), in If They Come in the Morning. Edited by Angela Davis. New York: Signet.
* Paul Takagi was then teaching in the School of Criminology, University of California, Berkeley.
From Crime and Social Justice 2 (Fall-Winter 1974): 82-89. Social Justice is published quarterly. Copyright © 1974 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. SocialJust@aol.com.