On the Imperial Past of America’s Prisons
If you’re interested in the deep past of America’s carceral state, and/or American imperial history, then you may want to take a look at Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, a 2009 edited volume put together by Alfred McCoy and Francisco Scarano and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. (At the moment, I happen to be making my way through McCoy’s important — and dense — other recent book, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, also out from Wisconsin in 2009.)
Colonial Crucible is a series of essays about ways in which the United States’ Pacific and Caribbean empire shaped U.S. policy both abroad and at home. In the publisher’s words,
the essays in this volume show how the challenge of ruling such far-flung territories strained the U.S. state to its limits, creating both the need and the opportunity for bold social experiments not yet possible within the United States itself. Plunging Washington’s rudimentary bureaucracy into the white heat of nationalist revolution and imperial rivalry, colonialism was a crucible of change in American statecraft. From an expansion of the federal government to the creation of agile public-private networks for more effective global governance, U.S. empire produced far-reaching innovations.
Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be Part 2, “Police, Prisons, and Law Enforcement,” which includes essays on American penal practices in colonial Puerto Rico, the prohibition of opium in the Philippines, policing in the Philippines, and, again in the Philippines, the Iwahig Penal Colony, opened in 1904 to alleviate overcrowding in Manila’s central penitentiary.