Explaining U.S. Imprisonment examines women in prison, minorities, the historical path to the modern prison, a wide range of contemporary issues, and social influences on prison reform. While focusing on prisons, this one-of-a-kind book is written within the context of the sociology of punishment and covers cutting-edge topics such as detaining immigrants, the War on Terror, and prison in the 21st century.


  • Uses a historical and social framework to place U.S. corrections and imprisonment policies in context
  • Includes first-hand accounts from inmates, as well as primary source documents written by early prison reformers
  • Integrates research on women, men, and minorities throughout, rather than separating each topic into a stand-alone chapter
  • Begins chapters with thought-provoking quotes to set the stage for the content that follows

Explaining U.S. Imprisonment is ideal for use as a supplementary text in undergraduate and graduate courses on corrections, imprisonment, and theories of punishment. It is also appropriate for use in courses on criminal justice, incarceration, minority issues in law, sociology of law, and the study of the modern prison system.

The Origins of U.S. Imprisonment: Beyond the Penitentiary

The origins of U.S. imprisonment: Beyond the penitentiary

It is well-known, that in no one place are offered more injurious and vicious examples, than in a prison, where condemned, untried and all other classes of prisoners, are intermingled, without regard either to age, sex, or condition. … Accustomed to idleness, debauchery, and practice of frauds upon their keepers, upon visitors and each other, the young and inexperienced criminal is early taught to imitate the dexterity of his elders.

—Turnbull, 1796, p. 19

The prisoner has a right to share in prison, comfortable clothing, wholesome food, pure air, and a free use of water, equally with a humane discipline and ample means of moral instruction.

—Dix, 1845, p. 39

Capt. William Burch, the ...

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