Penitentiaries, Reformatories, and Chain Gangs: Social Theory and the History of Punishment in Nineteenth-Century America.

Author:Ferrall, Bard R.
Position:Review
 
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MARK COLVIN, PENITENTIARIES, REFORMATORIES, AND CHAIN GANGS: SOCIAL THEORY AND THE HISTORY OF PUNISHMENT IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997) 294 pp.

The author aims to fill "a gap in the literature by providing in one volume a comprehensive history of the nineteenth-century American penal system, placing it within larger socio-historical developments, and also interpreting historical changes by utilizing various sociological theories." The theories used by the author are those of Emil Durkheim (that punishment functions to maintain the social order-punishment is increased during times of perceived social disintegration as an attempt to maintain social coherence), Karl Marx (punishment functions to maintain a high supply of labor-prison conditions tend to be worse than those of the lowest substratum of society, thus punishment motivates the unemployed worker to seek employment and to accept low wages), Michel Foucault (punishment is part of society's "technology of power"-penal methods change as society increases its scientific knowledge of human behavior), and Norbert Ellis (as society perceives itself and its institutions as becoming more civilized, penal institutions also change so as to appear more...

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