Originally part of the Mississippi Territory, Alabama was admitted to the union as a separate state in 1819 and developed an economy around its large cotton plantations. At the time, the state lacked a prison system, and in fact the general public opposed one: Even the spartan prisons of the 19th century consumed more tax revenue than punishments like flogging, branding, and hanging. Further, without a state prison system, a greater share of punitive power rested at the county level, and in Alabama—still considered the frontier at the ...

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