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Convict Voices

Women, Class, and Writing about Prison in Nineteenth-Century England

Anne Schwan

In this lively study of the development and transformation of voices of female offenders in nineteenth-century England, Anne Schwan analyzes a range of colorful sources, including crime broadsides, reform literature, prisoners’ own writings about imprisonment and courtroom politics, and conventional literary texts, such as Adam Bede and The Moonstone. Not only does Schwan demonstrate strategies for interpreting ambivalent and often contradictory texts, she also provides a carefully historicized approach to the work of feminist recovery. Crossing class lines, genre boundaries, and gender roles in the effort to trace prisoners, authors, and female communities (imagined or real), Schwan brings new insight to what it means to locate feminist (or protofeminist) details, arguments, and politics. In this case, she tracks the emergence of a contested, and often contradictory, feminist consciousness, through the prism of nineteenth-century penal debates. The historical discussion is framed by reflections on contemporary debates about prisoner perspectives to illuminate continuities and differences. Convict Voices offers a sophisticated approach to interpretive questions of gender, genre, and discourse in the representation of female convicts and their voices and viewpoints.

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Convicted Survivors

The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill

When a woman survives a deadly assault by her male abuser by using lethal self-defense, she often faces a punitive criminal justice system—one that largely failed to respond to her earlier calls for help. In this book, Elizabeth Dermody Leonard examines the lives and experiences of more than forty women in California who are serving lengthy prison sentences for killing their male abusers. She contrasts them with other women prisoners in the state and finds substantial differences. Leonard’s in-depth interviews reveal that the women are slow to identify themselves as battered women and continue to minimize the violence done to them, make numerous and varied attempts to end abusive relationships, and are systematically failed by the systems they look to for help. While in jail, these women receive liberal dosages of psychotropic drugs, damaging their ability to aid in their self-defense. Moreover, trials and plea bargains feature little or no evidence of the severe intimate abuse inflicted upon them. Despite a clear lack of criminal or violent histories, the majority of women found guilty of the death of abusive men receive first- or second-degree murder convictions and serve long, harsh sentences. Leonard concludes the book with a discussion of policy implications and recommendations arising from this research.

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Cops and Kids

Policing Juvenile Delinquency in Urban America, 1890-1940

Juvenile courts were established in the early twentieth century with the ideal of saving young offenders from “delinquency.” Many kids, however, never made it to juvenile court. Their cases were decided by a different agency—the police. Cops and Kids analyzes how police regulated juvenile behavior in turn-of-the-century America. Focusing on Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit, it examines how police saw their mission, how they dealt with public demands, and how they coped daily with kids. Whereas most scholarship in the field of delinquency has focused on progressive-era reformers who created a separate juvenile justice system, David B. Wolcott’s study looks instead at the complicated, sometimes coercive, relationship between police officers and young offenders. Indeed, Wolcott argues, police officers used their authority in a variety of ways to influence boys’ and girls’ behavior. Prior to the creation of juvenile courts, police officers often disciplined kids by warning and releasing them, keeping them out of courts. Establishing separate juvenile courts, however, encouraged the police to cast a wider net, pulling more young offenders into the new system. While some departments embraced “child-friendly” approaches to policing, others clung to rough-and-tumble methods. By the 1920s and 1930s, many police departments developed new strategies that combined progressive initiatives with tougher law enforcement targeted specifically at growing minority populations. Cops and Kids illuminates conflicts between reformers and police over the practice of juvenile justice and sheds new light on the origins of lasting tensions between America’s police and urban communities.

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The Corrigible and the Incorrigible

Science, Medicine, and the Convict in Twentieth-Century Germany

Greg Eghigian

The Corrigible and the Incorrigible explores the surprising history of efforts aimed at rehabilitating convicts in twentieth-century Germany, efforts founded not out of an unbridled optimism about the capacity of people to change, but arising from a chronic anxiety about the potential threats posed by others. Since the 1970s, criminal justice systems on both sides of the Atlantic have increasingly emphasized security, surveillance, and atonement, an approach that contrasts with earlier efforts aimed at scientifically understanding, therapeutically correcting, and socially reintegrating convicts. And while a distinction is often drawn between American and European ways of punishment, the contrast reinforces the longstanding impression that modern punishment has played out as a choice between punitive retribution and correctional rehabilitation. Focusing on developments in Nazi, East, and West Germany, The Corrigible and the Incorrigible shows that rehabilitation was considered an extension of, rather than a counterweight to, the hardline emphasis on punishment and security by providing the means to divide those incarcerated into those capable of reform and the irredeemable.

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Corrupt Illinois

Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality

Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson

Public funds spent on jets and horses. Shoeboxes stuffed with embezzled cash. Ghost payrolls and incarcerated ex-governors. Illinois' culture of "Where's mine?" and the public apathy it engenders has made our state and local politics a disgrace. In Corrupt Illinois , veteran political observers Dick Simpson and Thomas J. Gradel take aim at business-as-usual. Naming names, the authors lead readers through a gallery of rogues and rotten apples to illustrate how generations of chicanery have undermined faith in, and hope for, honest government. From there, they lay out how to implement institutional reforms that provide accountability and eradicate the favoritism, sweetheart deals, and conflicts of interest corroding our civic life. Corrupt Illinois lays out a blueprint to transform our politics from a pay-to-play–driven marketplace into what it should be: an instrument of public good.

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A Courageous Fool

Marie Deans and Her Struggle against the Death Penalty

Todd C. Peppers

There have been many heroes and victims in the battle to abolish the death penalty, and Marie Deans fits into both of those categories. A South Carolina native who yearned to be a fiction writer, Marie was thrust by a combination of circumstances—including the murder of her beloved mother-in-law—into a world much stranger than fiction, a world in which minorities and the poor were selected to be sacrificed to what Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun called the "machinery of death."

Marie found herself fighting to bring justice to the legal process and to bring humanity not only to prisoners on death row but to the guards and wardens as well. During Marie's time as a death penalty opponent in South Carolina and Virginia, she experienced the highs of helping exonerate the innocent and the lows of standing death watch in the death house with thirty-four condemned men.

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Courting Kids

Inside an Experimental Youth Court

Carla J. Barrett

Despite being labeled as adults, the approximately 200,000 youth under the age of 18 who are now prosecuted as adults each year in criminal court are still adolescents, and the contradiction of their legal labeling creates numerous problems and challenges. In Courting Kids Carla Barrett takes us behind the scenes of a unique judicial experiment called the Manhattan Youth Part, a specialized criminal court set aside for youth prosecuted as adults in New York City. Focusing on the lives of those coming through and working in the courtroom, Barrett’s ethnography is a study of a microcosm that reflects the costs, challenges, and consequences the “tough on crime” age has had, especially for male youth of color. She demonstrates how the court, through creative use of judicial discretion and the cultivation of an innovative courtroom culture, developed a set of strategies for handling “adult-juvenile ” cases that embraced, rather than denied, defendants’ adolescence.

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The Courtship of Eva Eldridge

A Story of Bigamy in the Marriage-Mad Fifties

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Coxsackie

The Life and Death of Prison Reform

Joseph F. Spillane

Should prisons attempt reform and uplift inmates or, by means of principled punishment, deter them from further wrongdoing? This debate has raged in Western Europe and in the United States at least since the late eighteenth century. Joseph F. Spillane examines the failure of progressive reform in New York State by focusing on Coxsackie, a New Deal reformatory built for young male offenders. Opened in 1935 to serve “adolescents adrift,” Coxsackie instead became an unstable and brutalizing prison. From the start, the liberal impulse underpinning the prison’s mission was overwhelmed by challenges it was unequipped or unwilling to face—drugs, gangs, and racial conflict. Spillane draws on detailed prison records to reconstruct a life behind bars in which “ungovernable” young men posed constant challenges to racial and cultural order. The New Deal order of the prison was unstable from the start; the politics of punishment quickly became the politics of race and social exclusion, and efforts to save liberal reform in postwar New York only deepened its failures. In 1977, inmates took hostages to focus attention on their grievances. The result was stricter discipline and an end to any pretense that Coxsackie was a reform institution. Why did the prison fail? For answers, Spillane immerses readers in the changing culture and racial makeup of the U.S. prison system and borrows from studies of colonial prisons, which emblemized efforts by an exploitative regime to impose cultural and racial restraint on others. In today’s era of mass incarceration, prisons have become conflict-ridden warehouses and powerful symbols of racism and inequality. This account challenges the conventional wisdom that America’s prison crisis is of comparatively recent vintage, showing instead how a racial and punitive system of control emerged from the ashes of a progressive ideal.

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