I have a review of Anne Marie-Cusac’s book Cruel and Unusual, about your prison system…and mine! It’s in the Chicago Reader. Obligatory quote below:
“Capital punishments are the natural offspring of monarchical governments,” Benjamin Rush wrote in 1792. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the father of American psychiatry, an abolitionist, and a prison reformer, and he’s one of the minor heroes of Anne-Marie Cusac’s Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America. Cusac, an assistant professor of communication at Roosevelt University, singles him out as representative of a stream of reformist thought common among the Founding Fathers and their peers. For Rush, opposition to cruel punishment was based on both Christian faith and patriotism. He saw American republicanism as uniquely free, uniquely Christian, and therefore uniquely humane.
As Cusac points out, things haven’t worked out quite as Rush hoped. America is far from the forefront of prison reform. We still practice capital punishment, and our rates of incarceration are by far the highest among Western nations. Moreover, since Abu Ghraib we’ve become notorious not for humaneness but for torture.
How exactly did this happen?