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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: January 2021

4 - Criticism and Doubt: The Pennsylvania System and the Social Construction of Penal Norms

from Part I - Becoming the Deviant Prison: Establishing The Conditions for Personal Institutionalization


Eastern was far from exceptional in the level of prison administrators' autonomy and inexperience, but two factors distinguished the administration at Eastern from that at other prisons. First, Pennsylvania did not employ contractors to run their prisons; consequently, the men in charge at Eastern saw themselves as trusted caretakers of the prison rather than men motivated by the promise of profit. Second, as some commentators recognized, Eastern's administrators were particularly active. More than mere figureheads, they had greater control than at other prisons—and they took advantage of this greater control. It was, in effect, their prison, a feeling of ownership and responsibility that will become clear in the following chapters. This chapter introduces the administrative and legal framework that provided a group of largely untrained and inexperienced men with tremendous control over Eastern and especially the difficult, and sometimes evasive, task of translating the Pennsylvania System into practice. It was this group of men for whom the Pennsylvania System became personally institutionalized and who would fight to maintain it at Eastern.