Penal Isomorphism

A Neo-Institutional Account of Prison Diffusion (Law & Society Review, 2015)

INTEREST IN LEGAL INNOVATIONS, PARTICULARLY IN THE CRIMINAL LAW REALM, OFTEN CENTERS ON AN INNOVATION’S EMERGENCE, BUT NOT ITS SUBSEQUENT DIFFUSION. TYPIFYING THIS TREND, EXISTING ACCOUNTS OF THE PRISON’S HISTORICAL ROOTS PERSUASIVELY EXPLAIN THE PRISON’S “BIRTH” IN JACKSONIAN-ERA NORTHERN COASTAL CITIES, BUT NOT ITS SUBSEQUENT RAPID, WIDESPREAD, AND HOMOGENOUS DIFFUSION ACROSS A CULTURALLY, POLITICALLY, AND ECONOMICALLY DIVERSE TERRAIN. INSTEAD, THIS STUDY OFFERS A NEO-INSTITUTIONAL ACCOUNT OF THE PRISON’S DIFFUSION, EMPHASIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF NATIONAL, FIELD-LEVEL PRESSURES RATHER THAN LOCAL, CONTEXTUAL FACTORS. THIS STUDY DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN THE PRISON’S INNOVATION AND EARLY ADOPTION, WHICH CAN BE EXPLAINED BY THE NEED TO REPLACE EARLIER PROTO-PRISONS, AND ITS SUBSEQUENT ADOPTION, PARTICULARLY IN THE SOUTH AND FRONTIER STATES, WHICH WAS DRIVEN BY THE DESIRE TO CONFORM TO INCREASINGLY WIDESPREAD PRACTICES. THIS STUDY FURTHER ATTRIBUTES THE ISOMORPHIC NATURE OF THE DIFFUSION TO INSTITUTIONAL PRESSURES, INCLUDING UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING THE NEW TECHNOLOGY, PSEUDO-PROFESSIONAL PENAL REFORMERS AND THEIR CLAIMS ABOUT COMPETING MODELS OF CONFINEMENT, AND CONTINGENT HISTORICAL FACTORS THAT REINFORCED THESE INSTITUTIONAL PRESSURES. THIS STUDY ILLUSTRATES THE IMPORTANCE OF DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE MOTIVATIONS THAT INITIATE CRIMINAL LAW INNOVATIONS AND THOSE THAT ADVANCE THEIR DIFFUSION.

Three Waves of American Penal Development, 1790-1920 (Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective, 2014)

THIS CHAPTER CALLS ATTENTION TO PENAL REGIME SHIFTS, EMPHASIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF COMPARING DIFFERENT PERIODS OF PRISON DEVELOPMENT. IN PARTICULAR, IT EXAMINES DIFFERENT INSTANTIATIONS OF PRISON ACROSS TIME. I DISCUSS THREE PERIODS OF PRISON DEVELOPMENT (1790-1810S, 1820-1860, 1865-1920), FOCUSING ON THE NATURE OF PRISON DIFFUSION ACROSS THE UNITED STATES. SPECIFICALLY, I DISCUSS THE HOMOGENEITY AND DIVERSITY OF PRISON FORMS IN EACH PERIOD. I DEMONSTRATE THAT THE FIRST TWO PERIODS WERE PARTICULARLY HOMOGENOUS, AS MOST STATES THAT ADOPTED PRISONS FOLLOWED A SINGLE MODEL, THE WALNUT STREET JAIL MODEL (1790-1810S) AND AUBURN SYSTEM (1820-1860). BY CONTRAST, THE POST-CIVIL WAR PERIOD EXPERIENCED THE EMERGENCE OF WOMEN’S PRISONS, ADULT REFORMATORIES, AND DISTINCTIVELY SOUTHERN APPROACHES TO CONFINEMENT. USING NEO-INSTITUTIONAL THEORY, I SUGGEST THIS POST-WAR PROLIFERATION OF PRISON FORMS WAS ONLY POSSIBLE BECAUSE THE PRISON HAD BECOME INSTITUTIONALIZED IN THE PENAL LANDSCAPE. SCHOLARS RARELY EXAMINE MULTIPLE SHIFTS IN PENAL REGIME TOGETHER, REDUCING THEIR ABILITY TO MAKE COMPARATIVE INSIGHTS. THIS CHAPTER JUXTAPOSES THREE HISTORICAL PERIODS OF PRISON DEVELOPMENT, THEREBY ILLUSTRATING THE DIVERSITY OF THE THIRD PERIOD AND IMPROVING EXTANT UNDERSTANDINGS OF PRISON EVOLUTION.

Outstanding Author Contribution, Emerald Literati Network Awards (2015)

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