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Free Online Event from Annual Reviews, Knowable Magazine & JSTOR Daily

Wednesday, March 23, 2022: 9AM Honolulu / 12PM San Francisco PST / 3PM New York EST

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In the US today, prisons are considered an entrenched part of the criminal justice system, yet they are a relatively modern way of dealing with crime. How have society’s attitudes toward punishment shifted over time and why does it matter?

Prisons were once considered a sign of progress, a victory for public health that was more humane than disease-ridden, overcrowded jails and the harsh physical punishments meted out on the town green. Yet today, prisons face a legitimacy crisis, and are considered by many policymakers and reformers as bloated, inhumane institutions. Even as scholarly work suggests that they are ineffective at making us safer, society has come to take the need for prisons and mass incarceration for granted. How did we get here? How have our attitudes toward prison, which some scholars date to around the time of the American Revolution, changed over time? Are prisons intended to punish to rehabilitate, or both? What’s reasonable to ask of prisons and do they ever work as intended? How is incarceration experienced by those who are imprisoned?

Watch this discussion between a formerly incarcerated writer and a sociologist to learn how the history of prisons can inform our understanding of mass incarceration today.

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Ashley Rubin, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Dr. Ashley Rubin’s research sits at the intersections of criminology, history, sociology, and sociolegal studies and focuses on the dynamics of penal change throughout US history. She seeks to understand why societies punish in different ways at different times and places in history and how penal change is possible — what causes a society to adopt new penal practices or abandon old ones. Rubin is the author of two books, including The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America’s Modern Penal System, 1829-1913, and she is currently writing a book on the history of American prisons.

Morgan Godvin, JSTOR Daily
Morgan Godvin is an engagement editor with JSTOR Daily, assigned to the American Prison Newspapers collection. This primary source archive contains centuries worth of digitized newspapers produced by and for incarcerated people. Godvin is formerly incarcerated and now dedicates herself to the intersection of journalism, history, and mass incarceration. She is a 2022 Bard Prison Initiative Public Health Fellow and recent graduate of the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

Moderator: Emily Underwood, Science Content Producer, Virtual Events, Knowable Magazine
Emily has been covering science for over a decade, including as a staff neuroscience reporter for Science. She has a bachelor’s degree in Science and Technology Studies from Brown University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University. In 2016-17 Emily was a Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism, and her reporting has won national awards, including a 2018 National Academies Keck Futures Initiatives Communication Award for magazine writing.


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This event is part of an ongoing series of live events and science journalism from Knowable Magazine and Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Major funding for Knowable comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Free event the invention of mass incarceration