A growing cadre of professional reformers rooted in the city and county’s middle class sought to influence jail conditions through policy avenues, among them, the League of Women Voters aimed to advance reforms rooted in penology to instill a program of “Metropolitan Corrections” to ensure accountable and depoliticized governance of the two jails under a single administrative body. As reformers imagined the possibilities of a jail merger, prisoners lived jailers’ experiments with rehabilitation. Paul Crump, a prisoner awaiting execution in Cook County Jail’s infamous electric chair, struggled to control his own critiques of the inequalities that lead to jailing as reformers coopted his story to deemphasize jail violence and overcrowding. Less successfully, people working directly with prisoners struggled to amplify prisoners’ concerns about jail conditions. Dick Gregory, a comedian and civil rights activist detained in the Chicago House of Correction, inspired two hundred prisoners to go on hunger strike over conditions in the city jail. Reflecting tensions nationwide over metropolitan governance and the rights revolution in criminal justice, policy-based reform efforts undermined grassroots prisoner rights struggles within Chicago’s jails. Prisoners bore the consequences of policymakers’ loyalties to metropolitan governance.
See more of: AHA Sessions