Penal Change

Penal Change as Penal Layering: A Case Study of Proto-Prison Adoption and Capital Punishment Reduction, 1785–1822 (Punishment & Society, forthcoming)

Recently, scholars have increasingly criticized descriptions of significant penal change as “ruptures”—sudden breaks with past practices, often replacing old technologies with new. This article promotes an alternative understanding of penal change as the layering of new penal technologies over old technologies to describe the complicated coexistence of old and new penal technologies following significant moments of change. This study demonstrates the layering process through a case study of the first major American penal reform: proto-prisons adopted between 1785 and 1822 are often described as the first great rupture in which long-term incarceration replaced capital punishment. Using the relationship between America’s emerging proto-prisons and declining death penalty, this article illustrates the complicated coexistence of penal reforms with older technologies. While proto-prisons emerged out of revulsion with capital punishment, many states adopted proto-prisons independently of their decisions to reduce capital offenses and most states retained relatively robust death penalties. Rather than a replacement or rupture, the emergence of proto-prisons represented an additional layer of punishment that partially displaced older technologies.

The Unintended Consequences of Penal Reform: A Case Study of Penal Transportation in Eighteenth-Century London (Law & Society Review, 2012)

What were the consequences of penal transportation to the New World for eighteenth-century British criminal justice? Transportation has been described by scholars as either a replacement of the death penalty responsible for its decline, or a penal innovation responsible for punishing a multitude of people more severely than they would have been punished before. Using data from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers and the Parliamentary Papers, this study examines sentencing and execution trends in eighteenth-century London. It takes advantage of the natural experiment provided by the passage of the 1718 Transportation Act that made transportation available as a penal sentence, thus enabling one to assess the “effect” of transportation on penal trends. This study finds that the primary consequence of the adoption of transportation was to make the criminal justice net more dense by subjecting people to a more intense punishment. While it was also associated with a small decline in capital sentences for some types of offenders, the adoption of transportation was also associated with an increase in the rate at which condemned inmates were executed. The study closes with a discussion of the conditions that may lead to law’s unintended consequences, including the mesh-thinning consequences observed here.

Honorable Mention, Law and Society Association Graduate Student Paper Prize (2013)


Comments are closed.