Historian Robert Perkinson’s new book traces Texas prison system from its roots in plantation slavery in the South.
I came across and interesting article in the Austin Chronicle about a new book written by Robert Perkinson, “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire,” that traces the for-profit prison system in Texas to the plantation slavery system of the south. Here’s an excerpt from the Austin Chronicle:
Earlier this year, historian Robert Perkinson published Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (Henry Holt and Company, 496 pp., $35), in which he traces the history of American prisons through the prism of the “retributive mode” of the Texas system. Perkinson, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has been studying Texas prisons since the late 1990s, when he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “convict leasing,” the privatized, for-profit system that replaced plantation slavery after the Civil War and survived into the 20th century. The book’s title is a quote from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – “There’s tough. And then there’s Texas tough.” – advocating broader application of the death penalty. Perkinson’s thesis is that harsh Texas prisons, perfecting punishment trends established throughout the South, have become a model for much of the country. Texas Tough is a broad historical survey, a detailed history of Texas prisons, and in the end a scholarly polemic about the state of American prisons in general.
Here is an excerpt from Mr. Perkinson’s interview with the Austin Chronicle:
Austin Chronicle: How did you come to the conclusion that the Texas system became the model for U.S. imprisonment?
Robert Perkinson: If you look at almost any book on prison history, they start in the Northeast with these reform-oriented institutions, around the period of the Revolution, that were meant to rehabilitate criminals. They never worked out so well, but the standard story that’s told is this “narrative of halting progress”: They try one thing to rehabilitate criminals, and that might not work, it degenerates into scandal, and then they try another. But there’s always been this counter-tradition of criminal punishment that just hasn’t received as much attention from historians but is just as prominent in the records. And that’s a hard-fisted retributionist model, tied up with racial stratification, and that’s always been more powerful in the South.
This is riveting and everyone should pick up a copy of this book. Some people may ask why he is digging up the past. The reality is to understand your future, you must understand your past. To echo the lyrics of late great Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” “In this great future, you can’t forget your past.” To read the entire article, CLICK HERE