The word "prison" immediately evokes stark images: forbidding walls spiked with watchtowers; inmates confined to cramped cells for hours on end; the suspicious eyes of armed guards. They seem to be the inevitable and permanent marks of confinement, as though prisons were a timeless institution stretching from medieval stone dungeons to the current era of steel boxes. But centuries of development and debate lie behind the prison as we now know it--a rich history that reveals how our ideas of crime and practices of punishment have changed over time.
In The Oxford History of the Prison, a team of distinguished scholars offers a vivid account of the rise and development of this critical institution. Penalties other than incarceration were once much more common, from such bizarre death sentences as the Roman practice of drowning convicts in sacks filled with animals to a frequent reliance on the scaffold and on to forms of public shaming (such as the classic stocks of colonial America). The first decades of the nineteenth century saw the rise of the full-blown prison system--and along with it, the idea of prison reform. Alexis de Tocqueville originally came to America to write a report on its widely acclaimed prison system.
The authors trace the persistent tension between the desire to punish and the hope for rehabilitation, recounting the institution's evolution from the rowdy and squalid English jails of the 1700s, in which prisoners and visitors ate and drank together; to the sober and stark nineteenth-century penitentiaries, whose inmates were forbidden to speak or even to see one another; and finally to the "big houses" of the current American prison system, in which prisoners are as overwhelmed by intense boredom as by the threat of violence. The text also provides a gripping and personal look at the social world of prisoners and their keepers over the centuries. In addition, thematic chapters explore in-depth a variety of special institutions and other important aspects of prison history, including the jail, the reform school, the women's prison, political imprisonment, and prison and literature.
Fascinating, provocative, and authoritative, The Oxford History of the Prison offers a deep, informed perspective on the rise and development of one of the central features of modern society--capturing the debates that rage from generation to generation on the proper response to crime.
"Two scholars more qualified to edit such a work do not readily come to mind....Both men are crisp, stylish writers....Well-written and intelligently indexed."--The New York Times Book Review
"An exemplary historical handbook."--Booklist
"Norval Morris writes a fascinating and sobering account of prisons in the contemporary U.S."--Journal of Social History
"Every facet of incarceration is covered in The Oxford History of the Prison."--American Heritage
"This comprehensive survey of the prison could not be more timely...and well-planned."--The New Republic
"Two scholars more qualified to edit such a work do not readily come to mind.... Both men are crisp, stylish writers.... This well-written and intelligently indexed book is also quite handsome--thanks to the more than 100 paintings, drawings, and photographs scattered throughout. Especially poignant are the eight full pages of artwork produced by inmates of the California State Prison system's Art in Corrections program."--Yale Kamisar, The New York Times
"The finest part of the book...is editor Norval Morris's chapter on the contemporary prison, which includes a one-day diary of a convict serving in a maximum-security prison in Illinois.... The message of this book...is sobering. At best, the conditions of prisons have improved at a glacial pace. And right now, we seem to be slipping backwards."--Newsday
"Examining current ideas on crime and punishment, this solid collection of 14 essays details the birth and development of the prison system. An exemplary historical handbook."--Booklist
"Oxford's History of the Prison is a landmark, an authoritative distillation of the history of the prison from antiquity to the present, in English-speaking countries and continental Europe, for men, women, and young offenders. It has no rival for sophistication, readability, or breadth of coverage."--Michael Tonry, author of Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America
"The selections in this anthology provide the most comprehensive overview of prisons I have yet to encounter. A very impressive and informative account of crime and punishment."--Don W. Sieker, New Hampshire College