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Politics and Punishment

The History of the Louisiana State Penal System

by Mark Thomas Carleton

228 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

Southern History

  Paperback / 9780807112199 / August 1984

One of the few studies of its kind, this political history of the Louisiana penal system from its origin to the near-present places heavy-emphasis on the development of penal policy and shows how the vicissitudes of the system have reflected the prevailing social, economic, and political views of the state as a whole.

The author traces Louisiana’s doleful history of convict leasing from 1844 to 1901 and provides a close look at the machinations of the notorious Major Samuel L. James, who controlled the state penal system for more than thirty brutal years.

Professor Carleton analyzes the effects of the Huey Long regime and the heel-slashings of the 1950s which brought the penitentiary the label of “America’s Worst Prison.” Finally, he traces the slow, uphill battle of those interested in better treatment and preparatory rehabilitation for state prisoners.

“At its worst,” says Carleton, Louisiana’s penal system “has been a barbaric and exploitative form of state slavery. . . . At best it has been a progressive correctional institution, administered by professional penologists with little or no interference from penal reactionaries or politicians.”

Politics and Punishment is a significant contribution to penal historiography and will no doubt serve as a model for similar studies in the field.

Mark T. Carleton , Associate Professor of History at Louisiana State University, received his A.B. degree from Yale University and the M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford. A native of Louisiana, he has published in historical quarterlies and is a former editor of Louisiana History.

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