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

8 - Turning a Blind Eye: Reputation and the Limits of Administrative Commitment

from Part II - THE ADVANTAGE OF DIFFERENCE: The Process of Institutionalization


This chapter describes what the Pennsylvania System looked like in practice, focusing on deviations from the Pennsylvania System's idealized regimen that its administrators vehemently defended. Quite at odds with their extensive public proclamations of their system's excellence, the administrators often subverted the Pennsylvania System's ultimate goals or directly broke its most central rules. This chapter explains the administrators' apparently paradoxical behavior by demonstrating that these deviations were part of an effort to reduce the Pennsylvania System's vulnerability to further criticism. Their management decisions at the prison were intensely pragmatic, guided not by a perfect belief in the Pennsylvania System or even penological goals, but by the desire to reduce expenses and prevent insanity—the Pennsylvania System's biggest weaknesses according to its critics. The administrators sought to prevent manifestations of the calumnious myths so they could continue to claim their system's superiority and protect their own status as benevolent, humane gentlemen running a model prison—a status that kept the Pennsylvania System personally institutionalized at Eastern.