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Reinventing PunishmentA Comparative History of Criminology and Penology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries$
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Michele Pifferi

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198743217

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198743217.001.0001

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The Struggle over the Indeterminacy of Punishment in the United States (1870s to 1900s)

The Struggle over the Indeterminacy of Punishment in the United States (1870s to 1900s)

(p.59) 4 The Struggle over the Indeterminacy of Punishment in the United States (1870s to 1900s)
Reinventing Punishment

Michele Pifferi

Oxford University Press

The chapter analyses the history of the US indeterminate sentence system, from Brockway’s first proposal of 1870 and the opening of the Elmira Reformatory in 1876 to the rise of critiques in the 1920s and 1930s. It examines the double rationale at the basis of the reformatory system, aiming at the reformation of the corrigible offenders and the neutralization of the most dangerous ones, as well as the debate on its constitutionality. The chapter also deals with the emphasis given to social defence and eugenics rather than individual rehabilitation at the beginning of the twentieth century and with the rising disillusions on the functioning of the system because of its unsolved problems with the knowledge of the prison boards, the lack of scientific criteria and uniformity in treatment, the inefficacy in preventing recidivism, political conditioning, and the risk of arbitrary discrimination.

Keywords:   indeterminate sentence laws, Zebulon Brockway, Elmira, separation of powers, relative indeterminate sentence, absolute indeterminate sentence, parole board, social protection, criminal eugenics

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