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The Big House
by Stephen Cox

Overview -

"The Big House" is America's idea of the prison---a huge, tough, ostentatiously oppressive pile of rock, bristling with rules and punishments, overwhelming in size and the intent to intimidate. Stephen Cox tells the story of the American prison--its politics, its sex, its violence, its inability to control itself--and its idealization in American popular culture.  Read more...


 
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More About The Big House by Stephen Cox
 
 
 
Overview

"The Big House" is America's idea of the prison---a huge, tough, ostentatiously oppressive pile of rock, bristling with rules and punishments, overwhelming in size and the intent to intimidate. Stephen Cox tells the story of the American prison--its politics, its sex, its violence, its inability to control itself--and its idealization in American popular culture. This book investigates both the popular images of prison and the realities behind them-: problems of control and discipline, maintenance and reform, power and sexuality. It conveys an awareness of the limits of human and institutional power, and of the symbolic and iconic qualities the "Big House" has attained in America's understanding of itself.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780300124194
  • ISBN-10: 0300124198
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publish Date: November 2009
  • Page Count: 222

Series: American Icons

Related Categories

Books > Social Science > Penology

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 37.
  • Review Date: 2009-09-07
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this sociological history of American penology, historian Cox describes the “Big House” era when state and federal prisons were sprawling structures that housed thousands of convicts. Simultaneously fearsome and awe inspiring, these dark behemoths became archetypal in the American imagination, and Cox recreates the world-within-a-world of these institutions by addressing the reader directly, marching him through the prison gates, shaving off his hair, dressing him in striped garb, locking him in a spare cell and noisily regimenting him for work, meals and recreation. Although some large prisons remain today (notably California's San Quentin), the Big House era ended with the closing of Alcatraz and in the face of critiques from the prisoner rights movement of the 1960s. Emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment, prisons became smaller, with “hardened” criminals separated from those guilty of less serious offenses. Although it cites criminology literature extensively, this detailed and vivid historical study is for the nonspecialist and provides a valuable look at the untold stories of life, sexuality, friendship and punishment in an overlooked corner—and microcosm—of American society. (Nov.)

 
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