Civil Liberties

"Time to Take Prisons Seriously" or, The Secret History of the American Penitentiary


Loyola College prof and Ludwig Von Mises Institute scholar Daniel J. D'Amico will be conducting an online course on the history of prisons in America. From his intro:

…few are familiar with why exactly Tocqueville came to visit the United States. He did not travel intending to investigate civil society. He was assigned by the French government to investigate and report upon America's newly designed and applied penitentiaries.

Along with his friend and colleague Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville coauthored On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France (1833) — before he draftedDemocracy in America. Tocqueville and Beaumont's report describes the rationale and institutional arrangements used in various townships of early America to enforce criminal law. They summarize the various types and magnitudes of criminal punishments used throughout the nation. And, in perhaps their most unique contribution, they describe the conditions and social processes underway within the prison facilities that Tocqueville spent most of his time in America touring.

It was not by coincidence that Tocqueville then decided to write about civil society. His two texts are complimentary responses to the same research question: What is the source of America's exceptionally early and rapid rate of economic and social development?

More here. The online course starts June 7 and sounds incredibly interesting.

Look for a pending issue of Reason (July's, I believe) that is dedicated to the "Incarceration Nation" that the Land of the Free has become over the past few decades. archive on Punishment/Prisons.