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With liberty for some : 500 years of imprisonment in America /
Scott Christianson.
Boston, MA : Northeastern University Press, c1998.
xix, 394 p.
1555533647 (cloth : alk. paper)
More Details
Boston, MA : Northeastern University Press, c1998.
1555533647 (cloth : alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 373-377) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Scott Christianson is a former investigative reporter and state criminal justice official. He is the author and curator of Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House. He lives near Albany, New York
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, USA, 1999 : Nominated
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1999-06-01:
Christianson's work is an encompassing tour of the origins and histories of American prisons, their subcultures, and their myriad complex problems. It begins with Columbus's initial voyage and concludes with an important discussion of the current "get tough on criminals" philosophy, a philosophy that has led to the incarceration of more than a million Americans in the nation's prisons. The author is the Director of the New York Death Penalty Documentation Project and is a creative writing teacher. The study differs from most American prison histories--a field that has recently received significant scholarly attention--in that its focus is more on prisoners and their rights than on reformer rhetoric. Christianson believes that although the US has become a country hell-bent on imprisonment as a solution (clearly a failed solution) to many societal problems, "the nation's prison heritage has been officially and culturally suppressed" as prisons "have become repositories of failure." The author includes slavery under the rubric of imprisonment, examines the birth of the penitentiary in the 1830s, and delves into the long history of American political prisoners. A solid contribution to the criminal justice field. Brief bibliography. Upper-division undergraduates and above. K. Edgerton Montana State University at Billings
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1998-10-19:
The key word in the subtitle is "imprisonment," for although much of this book is a history of the U.S. prison system, it is also an examination of the whole notion of imprisonment, whether as a slave, as (according to the author) a member of a utopian community such as the Shakers or as an inmate at Sing Sing. Christianson (a former newspaper reporter now associated with the New York State Defenders Association) offers an accessible, if curiously unfocused, account that includes a quick history of the African slave trade, a glimpse at how the British treated American prisoners of war during the Revolutionary War, grim scenes from early prisons in New York and Pennsylvania, descriptions of Civil War, stories of famous wardens and convicts (the Scottsboro Boys, Sacco and Vanzetti, Marcus Garvey), accounts of notorious prison riots and‘finally‘the rise of the prison business, which Christianson convincingly argues is now a mainstay of the American economy. The book sometimes wanders far afield (what's the early history of the Mormon Church doing here?) while other germane subjects are left uncovered (he gives limited serious attention, for instance, to the theories of criminology and prison architecture that made 19th-century America a mecca for penologists, or to how typical prisoners now spend their days). The author is a skillful storyteller with an eye for unexpected information, but his apparent zeal to impart a lot of information often interferes with his message. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1998-09-01:
The author, policy associate and director of the Death Penalty Documentation Project of the New York State Defenders Association, has produced a penetrating, thought-provoking account of over 500 years of imprisonment in America. This work is especially noteworthy for its cogent examination of the nexus between incarceration and slavery throughout American history, making it a seminal chronicle of this nation's prison heritage. Christianson emphasizes the often less-than-subtle paradox in American history of a nation committed to the pursuit of individual liberties yet apparently equally committed to maintaining the largest penal complex in the world. What also marks this as a compelling account is the author's inclusion of personal stories of prisoners and guards alike. This excellent, exhaustive examination of our criminal justice system appears at a crucial time, given the level of resources committed to incarceration and the concomitant debate about their effectiveness. Anyone who wishes to understand more clearly the seriousness of the debate should read this account. Recommended for all libraries.‘Stephen Kent Shaw, Northwest Nazarene Coll., Nampa, ID (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, September 1998
Kirkus Reviews, October 1998
Publishers Weekly, October 1998
Booklist, December 1998
Choice, June 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
A sweeping history of imprisonment in the United States, shedding new light on the important, yet disconcerting, role that incarceration has played in shaping the American experience.
Unpaid Annotation
From Columbus's voyages to the New World through today's prison expansion movements, incarceration has played an important, yet disconcerting, role in American history. In this sweeping examination of imprisonment in the United States over five centuries, Scott Christianson exposes the hidden record of the nation's prison heritage, illuminating the forces underlying the paradox of a country that sanctifies individual liberty while it continues to build and maintain a growing complex of totalitarian institutions.Based on exhaustive research and the author's insider's knowledge of the criminal justice system, With Liberty for Some provides an absorbing, well-written chronicle of imprisonment in its many forms. Interweaving his narrative with the moving, often shocking, personal stories of the prisoners themselves and their keepers, Christianson considers convict transports to the colonies; the international trade in captive indentured servants, slaves, and military conscripts; life under slavery; the transition from colonial jails to model state prisons; the experience of domestic prisoners of war and political prisoners; the creation of the penitentiary; and the evolution of contemporary corrections. His penetrating study of this broad spectrum of confinement reveals that slavery and prisons have been inextricably linked throughout American history. He also examines imprisonment within the context of the larger society.With Liberty for Some is a thought-provoking work that will shed new light on the ways in which imprisonment has shaped the American experience. As the author writes: "prison is the black flower of civilization -- a durable weed that refuses to die".
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
The Rise of the Prisoner Tradep. 3
A Land of Prisoners and Keepersp. 39
Prisoners of the Revolutionp. 68
Little Man in the Big Housep. 110
Scandal and Reformp. 163
The Golden Age of Political Prisonersp. 204
Doing Timep. 230
Full Circlep. 275
Notesp. 314
Selected Bibliographyp. 373
Indexp. 379
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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