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Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, Revised Edition

NCJ Number
David J. Rothman
Date Published
428 pages
This is the reissue of a classic study (Originally published in 1971) that examined why a generation of Americans in the early 19th century undertook the monumental task of institutionalizing convicted offenders, mentally ill persons, juvenile delinquents, orphans, and adult poor people.
This study develops the thesis that the emergence of prisons and asylums in America was spawned by a pervasive anxiety that fueled a commitment to a new stability in the face of rapidly changing social, political, economic, demographic, and religious influences. The ideological consensus that emerged in the Jacksonian era envisioned a model society in which persons who threatened consensus normative behaviors or were victims of fractured families or economic hard times would be identified and managed within prisons and asylums. The analysis argues that the use of institutions to "rescue the deviant and dependent" resolved the pervasive anxiety about a perceived disintegrating social order. Individuals perceived as causes or victims of socioeconomic unpredictability were identified and managed in ordered institutional environments. In most cases, prisons and asylums became overcrowded due to cost-saving measures, and residents were controlled with mechanical restraints and punishments. Chapter notes and a subject index