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Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944

NCJ Number
S Bookspan
Date Published
168 pages
The thesis of this study is that the way in which prisons changed in California and elsewhere between 1851 and 1944 tells a great deal about the evolution of American democracy.
For most of the 93 years between 1851, when the California State Legislature authorized an act to secure State prison convicts, until 1944, when the legislature organized the State's four prisons into one adult penal system, the prisons at San Quentin and Folsom were the only places for incarcerating State felons. The original concept for these institutions was as a stronghold. Early California legislators and the general public adopted a view of criminals as a class unworthy of liberty. Problems arose in this view, however, as American democracy developed. California's struggle to develop an integrated prison system reflected a changing concept of criminals from individuals who were inherently bad to individuals who were only partially bad. In addition to examining the development of San Quentin and Folsom, the historical review of the California prison system considers prisoners as reformers between 1900 and 1910, minimum security for both men and women between 1910 and 1944, and prison system reform from 1941 to 1944. Appendixes contain tables showing the growth in the prison populations of San Quentin and Folsom for the 1855-1937 period. References, notes, and illustrations