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Feb. 6, 2023

The History of the Cook County Jail

The first Cook County Jail was a wooden stockade, built in 1833 in Chicago, which was then a town of around 250 people. Today, the Cook County Department of Corrections, which takes up 8 city blocks on the Southwest Side of Chicago, is one of the largest single-site jails in the country and incarcerates nearly 100,000 people a year. The history of the jail’s expansion is a story of urban politics and patronage, battles over criminal justice reform, and the racist underpinnings of mass incarceration. 

Joining me to help us learn more about the Cook County Jail is Dr. Melanie Newport, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and author of This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is “Slow E-Guitar Blues Solo” by JuliusH from Pixabay. The image of the Cook County Department of Corrections is by Stephen Hogan on Flickr and was taken on October 24, 2017; it is used under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).


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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

On today's episode, the first episode in our short series on Chicago history, we're discussing the history of the Cook County Jail. Cook County, now the second most populous county in the United States, was created by an act of the Illinois General Assembly on January 15, 1831, the 54th county established in Illinois. The first Cook County Jail was built in 1833 in Chicago, which was then a town of around 250 people. That jail was a wooden stockade, quickly outgrown as Chicago's population exploded. In 1850, Cook County built a new courthouse, including a jail in its basement. Starting in 1851, the city of Chicago also operated a jail, the Bridewell, in fulfillment of the city's 1837 charter. The population of the Bridewell workhouse was largely people who owed the city small fines, which they worked off during their sentences. In August, 1871, the city moved its jail from its downtown location to less valuable real estate, building the Chicago House of Corrections at 26th Street and California Boulevard on Chicago's west side. The move was fortuitously timed, as the jail managed to escape the Great Chicago Fire in October, 1871. Prisoners in the Chicago House of Corrections made many of the bricks used to rebuild the city after the fire. The Cook County Courthouse and Jail did not escape damage from the fire; and in 1874, a new Cook County Jail, with 136 cells, was built just north of the Chicago River near the county administration building. It was that location at 54 West Hubbard Street, just two blocks from the current House of Blues, that was the setting for the musical, "Chicago," where Roxy and Velma are held while on trial for murder. As that River North location became fashionable, pressure increased on the county to move the jail away from the high end hotels and department stores. The then president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Anton Cermak, future mayor of Chicago, championed a plan to build a new courthouse and jail on county land adjacent to the Chicago House of Corrections at 26th and California. The new jail site, which opened in 1929, had the added benefit of creating patronage jobs for Cermak's Czechoslovakian cronies in the neighborhood. At the same time that the new jail was opening, state law changed the method of capital punishment from hanging to the electric chair. These state executions took place in state penitentiaries, except in the case of counties with a population over a million. Thus, the new Cook County Jail was the only county jail in the state that had its own electric chair and carried out its own executions. The last such execution in the Cook County Jail took place in 1962. Capital punishment is now illegal in Illinois. The last execution in Illinois took place in 1999, and Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in 2011. In 1969, the state legislature, which had previously resisted such a move, approved legislation to merge the Chicago House of Corrections and the Cook County Jail into one entity, The Cook County Department of Corrections, under the control of the county. Chicago's Democratic Mayor, Richard Daley, opposed the move, seeing it as a plot against him by the Republicans in state government, including the Republican Governor, Richard Ogilvy. The warden of the jail through this transition was a man named Winston Moore, the first Black warden of the jail, whose population was 80% Black. Moore had previously worked as a juvenile gang psychologist, and he had reformist inclinations. He started the therapy program, brought in social workers, and invited celebrated performers to the jail to give concerts, including BB King, and Aretha Franklin. However, overseeing a massive expansion of the jail with inadequate resources, limited what Moore was able to accomplish. In 1977, Moore was fired after a series of escapes, and accusations that Moore beat inmates. He was indicted on charges of, "aggravated battery, battery, official misconduct, and perjury." The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, but Moore's time in the jail was done. Today, the Cook County Department of Corrections, still located at 26th and California, takes up eight city blocks in Chicago, and is one of the largest single site jails in the country. Nearly 100,000 individuals a year spend time incarcerated there. In 2008, the United States Department of Justice released a report showing that the Cook County Department of Corrections, which was then under the oversight of Cook County Sheriff, Democrat Tom Dart, had violated the Eighth Amendment by failing to protect inmates from harm from other inmates or from staff, failing to provide adequate sanitary environmental conditions, and failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care. In spring of 2020, the Cook County Department of Corrections was one of the largest COVID 19 hotspots in the United States, with 10 inmates dying of COVID, and one study claiming that over 15% of COVID cases in both Chicago and Illinois were linked to the jail. In 2021, the Illinois State Legislature passed the "Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity Today Act," which was signed into law by Democratic governor JB Pritzker. As of January 1, 2023, Cook County has done away with the practice of cash bail. Instead, a judge determines whether an individual should be detained prior to trial. 65 of the state's 102 counties joined a lawsuit to avoid ending cash bail. That case is headed to the state Supreme Court. Joining me now to help us learn more about the history of the Cook County Jail is Dr. Melanie Newport, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, and the author of, "This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration."

Hi, Melanie, thanks so much for joining me today.

Dr. Melanie Newport  9:20  

Kelly Therese Pollock  9:21  
 I am I want to say excited to talk about Chicago. This is perhaps not the most exciting of subjects, a little bit of a depressing subject. But I'm happy to be learning more. So I want to hear a little bit about how you got started on this particular project writing about Cook County and jailing?

Dr. Melanie Newport  9:38  
Sure. I mean, I came to this project having never been to Chicago before in my life. I was curious about local jails and had kind of just started out with newspaper research and kind of just spitballing, picked what I knew to be the biggest jails in the country at this time about 10 years ago and came across some really fascinating stories out of Chicago that were very well documented, particularly in the 1970s, about a Black jail warden named Winston Moore. And I found him to be one of the most captivating people I had ever read about. He was kind of politically conservative, he was bombastic. He was caught up in all of these political disputes, where he was accusing people of being liars. Prisoners and guards had their own kind of narratives about what was happening in the jail at that time, Cook County Jail. And so I became a Chicago historian because I had to get to the bottom of like, what is the world that produced this guy and this fascinating story, and it ended up really bending for me, I think everything I thought that I knew about jails and what other people were saying about jails, which is you know, that they're primarily places for the kind of the lower classes of people, the rabble of society. I found a much deeper story about race and governance at the county level than I had expected. So Winston Moore was kind of the gateway for that.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:16  
So I want to come back to sources in a minute. But let's first define for people what is a jail? Because I think, you know, a lot of people, including me, until very recently, tend to conflate jail and prison, and it's all one thing. So what specifically is jail?

Dr. Melanie Newport  11:31  
Right. So when we talk about jails, usually we're talking about places where people are detained while they're awaiting trial, if they can't afford bail, or if they've been denied bail, which is kind of a money security that is paid to a local government to ensure that someone will show up for court, or a place where someone serves a short sentence; so a place where you might serve a sentence for a petty crime of less than one year. So you know, historically, this has been true, the proportions of how many people are pre-trial sentence can be really variable. But one of the things that I found was not just that there are these, you know, really central functions of incarcerating people. But there are all these other rationalizations that people use to talk about why they're jailing, and what the jail means to the community, what the jail is for. And so my definition of jailing also includes the fact that jails are racialized political institutions. These are places where we talk about what can government do for inequality? What is our obligation to our communities? What do how do we imagine safety? You know, so I incorporate race into my definition of jails because I think it just, it has to be central. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  13:01  
Yeah. And I think it's important as we continue this discussion to just remind people of the presumption of innocence of a lot of the people that are in jail if they're pre-trial. Can you talk a little bit about that, and what that means and in the context of what jails are like?

Dr. Melanie Newport  13:16  
Yeah, I mean, this is always something that is going to be determining, you know, especially after the late 1960s and 1970s, the kind of criminal justice rights revolution, where the Supreme Court kind of starts recognizing that people have constitutional rights while they're incarcerated. One of the things that makes jails really different from prisons, right, we think of prisons being really defined by the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. People in jail have access to that right, but they also have access to the Fourth Amendment right of due process. Right. And so, technically, they're not supposed to be punished before they go to trial. And in, you know, the history of the jail, there's a lot of conversations about rehabilitating people in jail, which for people who have been conditioned to discourse around prisons, right, we think, "Of course, we want people returned to society rehabilitated and and, you know, restored to full citizenship." But for jails, you don't need to rehabilitate people who are presumed innocent. And so this becomes kind of one of the challenges historically, is that these kinds of expectations or fantasies or discourses around reform, are constantly running into the legal realities that are emerging about what kind of rights people have when, when they're in jail and the kind of separate categories and it's, it can be really frustrating to try and suss this out. Because sometimes, you know, particularly in other places, people you know, in Philadelphia  they call it the Philadelphia Prison System. And so, but they're really operating jails. And so it becomes kind of murky, I think, and difficult to theorize, which is, again, part of why I think studying the case in Chicago was helpful because there are fewer jail sites. There's ultimately one county jail, operated by a sheriff. It just became a little bit easier to, to kind of target.

Kelly Therese Pollock  15:31  
So it you mentioned earlier, some of the stuff that's well documented. I want to talk a little bit about the sources that we do have, and then importantly, some of the sources that we don't have, that don't exist anymore. So can you talk a little bit about what you were and were not able to access? 

Dr. Melanie Newport  15:46  
 Yeah, I mean, the so this was the kind of frustrating challenge of this as a political historian, somebody trained in policy history, the first place I'm gonna go is to government documents, where are the reports that are going to tell me what is happening in the jail and why they're doing what they're doing. I was able to find, you know, not on the level of what you would find, I think usually with a state prison system that that documents what it's doing. Some state prison systems don't save the records, so this gets tricky. So I was able to find a kind of a, a skeleton, if you will, of government documents, but not much. Illinois allows the jail to destroy records after 10 years. My efforts to try and get historic jail documents that I knew had existed through FOIA requests to the sheriff's office were unsuccessful. And so I really had to go through pretty much every available archival collection in Chicago with a fine tooth comb, looking for evidence of the jail. And so what became really important to this project, in addition to the documents from the municipal reference collection at the Chicago Public Library, were the Hans Mattick papers and the Charlotte Senechalle papers at the Chicago History Museum, and the League of Women Voters papers at the University of Illinois, Chicago Special Collections. And these kinds of activist papers, were places where people said more about what the experience of incarcerated people really was and what they were trying to do, to understand, really the harms of the jail. And, you know, not in this kind of neutral bureaucratic language, but collected documents that I think gave the story a really human face, and showed the complexity of what people were trying to do as they kind of juggled these various different imperatives of pre-trial freedom, reform, rehabilitation, thinking about jail expansion, all of the different kinds of possibilities that they were engaging. You know, additionally, we have legal sources through the ACLU Illinois papers at the University of Chicago, that talk more about the kind of efforts really, in the late 60s and the 70s, to try and create an idea that people in jail have legal rights and that they should be able to appeal to the courts, on matters of jail conditions. So I ended up finding, you know, this kind of larger ecosystem of activism around the jail and through through those kinds of formal archival collections, through radical newspapers, through TV shows, through the newspapers created by jailed people in the 1950s that are at the University of Chicago, I was able to really build out the story; but it wasn't one that could be done by just you know, going down to the courthouse or going to the sheriff's office to look at their papers.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:30  
So let's talk some about the political landscape. You know, you said that trying to figure out the situation that created a Winston Moore, you know what that looked like. I wonder if you could talk some about the political landscape of Chicago through the decades that you're looking at, but also what that means sort of visa vie Cook County. So Cook County is slightly larger than Chicago, but Chicago is obviously the the huge part of Cook County and there's always and continues to be a tension between county and city, and that plays out in the history of this jail.

Dr. Melanie Newport  20:06  
Yeah, so a lot of people don't know that the city of Chicago used to operate its own jail, the Chicago House of Corrections, and that it merged with Cook County Jail to form the Cook County Department of Corrections, in 1969, to create the kind of mega institution that we have today. So before this, we see the city, you know, particularly with, you know, people like Mayor Richard Daley, right was very engaged in the operations of both the Chicago House of Corrections and its jail farm. At the same time, next door to the Chicago House of Corrections is the Cook County Jail, which had been built on land that the city sold to the county when they moved the jail from downtown Chicago, in the 1920s. And so this is operated by the Cook County Sheriff. And for a large portion of the history of Cook County Jail, many of the people who controlled it as sheriffs were Republicans. And so you know, part of the story is tension between are we going to operate jails as kind of democratic, maybe liberal institutions, or are we going to think about them in terms of, you know, a more conservative approach, not conservative in the way that we would use it today like to think about socially conservative, but thinking about it more in terms of fiscally conservative, so kind of spartan approach to jailing was one of the major distinctions, was that you could go to the Chicago House of Corrections, and get psychiatric care in the 1960s. And they didn't have anything like that in Cook County Jail. So in terms of politics, right, it becomes important because the in relationship to policing, right, and this is where jailing gets really complicated, is thinking about, like, who is providing the jail with people to fill it? You know, so the legally, the Chicago Police, for example, were not just enforcing state laws, they were enforcing the municipal ordinances that were feeding people into the city jail, but not the county jail. And so there was actually a different legal system before state constitutional reform in the 60s, that is contributing to, for example, different proportions, by race in these two jails that are literally operating side by side for most of the 20th century. And so part of, you know, what I'm saying about why jails grow, you know, in the 1960s, and 70s, is not just because of like, tada, mass incarceration is here, suddenly jails are racist, right? We see a very deep history of racial inequality in jailing going back to the origins of the jail. But it's because they're trying to make them easier to govern. They're trying to eliminate the number of stakeholders. And so this is a huge loss for Richard Daley is that he loses the jail for the city. And this is considered a pretty huge blow for the people who worked there, because the county was regarded as a kind of bastion of white politics. And particularly by the time that of the jail merger, white law and order politics. And so, you know, the, one of the main constituencies trying to block the merger was actually African American jail guards at the city House of Corrections, who had found kind of employment through like merit based hiring policies that the city was better at doing than the county. So it gets really, really complicated in trying to suss out, the stakeholders involved. And you know, part of the challenge of this is like, we have a bunch of books about Mayor Richard Daley. We don't have scholarship on sheriffs at all among historians. And so it was really tricky to figure out, "Why do we have sheriffs? What are sheriffs doing? What are the politics of being a sheriff?" And so one of the surprising things I found in this story was throughout you know, from essentially the consolidation of the two jails, we see also that sheriffs are working really hard to kind of limit oversight over the jail and to consolidate their own political authority really to narrow the options for incarcerated people and community members to enact any kind of vision for the jail, that might include things like pre-trial freedom, or more robust rehabilitation programs. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  25:26  
Yeah. So you say at one point in the book that we hear that, that mass incarceration is like a backlash to the civil rights movement, but in fact, the civil rights movement is also coming out of a response to mass incarceration. So can you tease that out a little bit for me? Tell me what what you mean by that, and that sort of how we see that happening in this particular jail setting.

Dr. Melanie Newport  25:52  
Sure. Yeah. So it's really tempting right to, I think, again, look at the quantitative data, you know, that shows kind of the number of people in jail, from the 1960s forward, the proportions of those people racially, in terms of kind of percentages of Black and white, and to say that, okay, this mass incarceration is historically specific as a backlash to civil rights. But I was really persuaded by the work of people like Vesla Weaver, who talked about mass incarceration as a kind of frontlash, right thinking about this as a kind of deliberate policymaking project of racial control. And this, you know, I think, as I took a more kind of capacious approach to the timeline of this project, really trying to think about how logics of mass incarceration operate, from the time that there are Black people in Chicago, it helps me to move away from this notion of backlash, right, which doesn't necessarily, that sounds, it sounds reactive, it sounds emotional, to really look at the calculated justifications that people made for African American jailing, in particular. So thinking about mass incarceration, not necessarily as an outcome, or a moment, but thinking of it as a kind of tool that government has for racial control, I think really helped me to understand, you know, for example, why a jail warden, at the beginning of the 20th century, would talk about a jailed Black man, you know, like, "He's as happy as he, if he was born here," you know, and all of the the reasons why it was actually a good idea for this guy to be in jail rather than to be free, you know, when he was a kind of a petty scammer, not somebody who was essentially doing kind of vast amounts of harm in the community. But really helping me kind of get into the enduring mindset of people who say like, "It's not that, that this is about even like punishing Black people. Jail is good for Black people." And so I think, to uncover that logic, you have to kind of look beyond civil rights, and civil rights is still really important to jailing in Chicago. Part of what I deal with in chapter three is kind of how, how the idea of civil rights comes to the jail. And it turns out that jailed people are ready for civil rights movement activists when they get there, because they already had their own kind of sense of politics, their own sense of their citizenship, and what government owed them, how they should be treated by government. And so I think it it helps us to really suss out the complexity of that story and to find stories that we don't expect. I did not expect, you know, to find, for example, the sociologist, Joseph Loman, who becomes sheriff in the 1950s, I didn't realize that, you know, to use the kind of language of now, like he's an early Critical Race theorist, right, who is talking about how we manage racial difference through policing, and jail. And he's running Cook County Jail for four years in the 1950s. And so, if we think about the story only starting, you know, in the 1970s with mass incarceration as a moment, we completely miss the fact that he's he's not just theorizing criminal justice. He's theorizing race, from his kind of position at the jail.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:04  
I want to talk some about protest and the ways that the people who are incarcerated within the jail are trying to stand up for their rights, are trying to push back when things are really, really terrible conditions. And what what types of success, maybe not a huge amount of success, but what types of success they are able to get in those protests. So can you talk a little bit about what types of things they're attempting to do to draw attention and to get a little bit better conditions?

Dr. Melanie Newport  30:35  
I think one of the things that surprised me, the more I thought about this idea that jailed people have a politics, and if we're going to think about jail politics, we have to think about jailed people and their vision for the jail and how they should be treated. You know, you see things from, you know, a kind of a spectrum, from things like setting fires, to try and draw attention, things like riots, you know, violent backlashes, all out kind of battles with the the guards, some of which were subdued with things like fire hoses and tear gas. You know, you see other kinds of political tactics emerging in tandem with and in conversation with the civil rights movement. So things like hunger strikes, sit down strikes, refusal to work, being really essential, particularly in the era before lawsuits became a kind of primary way for people to make claims about and kind of try to negotiate their rights with government. But these lawsuits are really essential for giving us a clear documentation, showing how difficult it was for prisoners to prove that they had been mistreated, right, as individuals. And it really is part of the kind of diminishing of this collective political capacity that they had been forming between the 1950s and the 1970s. And so I think, you know, one of the kind of successes, however, briefly is that they're able to draw an incredible amount of attention and local political accountability to the plight of the jail. At the same time, the dynamics of power are changing to really kind of this more individualized system. And so one of the things that I kind of argue is that through the development of maximum security jailing, in the 1980s, and electronic monitoring where people are shackled, you know, with ankle bracelets at home and jailed at home, part of this is about kind of diffusing the political power of jailed people, and really eliminating ways for them to act together as a kind of political group.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:37  
One thing that is so fascinating to me was this idea of the barn bosses. And so this is, at times within the jail, that that some of the people incarcerated in the jail would actually have some authority or would be used by the people in charge to maintain control. Could you talk a little bit about that, and this weird tension that that sets up then among the people who are incarcerated?

Dr. Melanie Newport  33:47  
Yeah, so this speaks to the some of the ways that the mid-century kind of fiscal conservatism around jailing was really present at Cook County Jail. And so barn bosses are similar to a system used in in prisons called the trustee system, where prisoners were kind of granted the authority to function in ways that were similar to guards, to oversee certain areas of the jail, to fulfill kind of different administrative responsibilities, like doling out blankets and getting someone settled when they were being admitted into their jail cell. And so one of the kind of the tensions at work was in the case of Cook County, they weren't paying people enough to be jail guards. They weren't really even that job wasn't really even that appealing to people within the political patronage system. And so, they kind of had the, the dregs of public workers, and they're always complaining about staffing. And so they they kind of turned to jailed people. However, Cook County Jail in the 1950s, for example, had an electric chair. They were operating their own death row for the state of Illinois, which is this is the only jail in America where this is happening. And so they're giving some people who had a lot of clout in the jail just as long timers and as people who had nothing to lose an incredible amount of authority over other jailed people. And so they find, for example, that the barn bosses are requiring payment, or favors, for example, they're using violence to control certain sectors of the jail. And these are, are places where essentially, the guards are just kind of absent, and that there's not the authority of government really, that people are just governing themselves. And so there's a real, it's a real challenge to say, you know, are people more free, without the authority of guards to abuse them? You know, and one of the things that prisoners say, particularly in this documentary called "The Big Jungle," which you can find on YouTube, is that they would, they would actually, like the government, you know, the county government to exercise more responsibility over them, because they understand that the barn bosses are not keeping them safe. And so one of the kind of the stories that the barn bosses help us tell, is really about the dynamics of power and the kind of hierarchies between incarcerated people based on how long they had been in jail, based on the kind of power that they were actually able to get recognized from the jail. And you know, it takes different forms at different moments. At different moments, people are, are saying that the barn bosses are tier clerks, that this is an official position. At other moments,the administration is saying, "There's no such thing as barn bosses. We've eliminated the barn bosses," and jailed people are saying, "No, this system still exists." And so the the question of how formally recognized it is, becomes a political football, you know, for talking about to what extent is the jail actually caring for people's needs?

Kelly Therese Pollock  37:31  
Yeah. So I want to ask about women too, because there are, of course, also women jailed there. So what what was the experience like for them? Like, what were the particular things that might have been different for women within the jail setting? And were they even remembered that they were there? You know, were there things that perhaps they were not even provided with because they were such a sort of forgotten population?

Dr. Melanie Newport  37:57  
Yeah, right. So this is something that that we see a lot, you know, on Twitter, for example, or recent criminal justice reports talk about the explosion of the incarceration of women, after the 1970s. But there were always women in jail, sometimes very small numbers. And so I think women's health needs are very specifically important to women's experience of the jail. You know, finding, for example, in in the 1920s, the women reformers, you know, these kind of pioneers of social work, were talking about their frustration at, for example, the fact that a woman had been jailed in a dispute with her neighbor, and now they had to find somebody to breastfeed her baby. So the plight of mothers I think, is is very consistent over the the history of the jail, particularly because it wasn't until the 70s that children were allowed to visit the jail, the Cook County Jail. Other kinds of women's health issues, you know, when you see the increase in the policing of sex workers, which is something that Andrea Fisher talks about in her new book, the fact that they did not have kind of structures for gynecological care, and that they're saying, "We actually need somebody to come and check these women for things like STDs, because they're coming to the jail sick, and they're going back out into the community sick." You know, access to things like birth control and education about kind of sexual health, there were a lot of tension over whether that was a kind of role for the jail. So there there are, you know, things specific, I think, to women's bodies that are really important to their experience of jailing. You know, at the same time, I think one of the ways that women get contrasted against men is really crucial, right, in the idea that women are entitled to like a gentler, kinder version of jailing. And so you see, I think in the conversations about kind of what what women in jail deserve, is often, you know, kind of set up in terms of like, "Well, maybe it is more important that they have access to their kids, or maybe it is more important that they have, that they're able to learn how to sew, or learning kind of, you know, taking parenting classes," for example. And so I think this is a place where we can see, jail programming, really, at its fullest capacity is often around women. But at the same time, one of the things that surprised me as I made a really conscious decision, you know, regardless again, of the kind of the, the numbers, I really wanted to move away from this kind of quantitative justification for everything we tell about the story of mass incarceration, I made a really conscious decision to try and put women you know, into the story wherever, wherever possible. And what that allowed me to do was to find some of the most explicit criticism of jail operations. And so one of the sources that I came across was a book called, "Lyrics of Locked Up Ladies." And it is poetry by women who were incarcerated at Cook County Jail in the early 1970s. They're talking about censorship, they're talking about their sexual identities, they're talking about their frustrations that the Black women jail matrons are acting white. They're, they're extremely specific about how they perceive the power at work, that's structuring their lives, but also the ways that, you know, they wake up in the night, wondering where their baby is, because they forgot that they're in jail, you know, like, and so they really, I think, capture, you know, both the kind of the broader political shifts that are happening, like, jail is expanding, they are becoming subject to greater kind of technological tools for controlling their behavior in jail. At the same time, they're trying to balance their own sense of humanity, and, and all of the selves that they brought with them to jail. So I found I found the women's stories to be very poignant, you know, in particularly because some of the most vocal advocates for reform are also women. Some white woman through organizations like the League of Women Voters, were among the kind of most consistent groups paying attention to women in jail. And of course, Black woman pastors who were kind of major civil rights advocates for both men and women in the jail.

Kelly Therese Pollock  43:06  
Well, there is so much more that we won't be able to get to. So how can people get your book?

Dr. Melanie Newport  43:10  
You can get it through Penn Press, or kind of anywhere where books are sold, but I encourage you to check out Penn Press because they have the best sales.

Kelly Therese Pollock  43:19  
And if people after hearing this or after reading your book are horrified by jailing, do you have some organizations or things that you think people should should follow or donate to?

Dr. Melanie Newport  43:33  
Yeah, check out Chicago Community Jail Support. They are doing direct work, right outside the jail, to provide jailed people with things like coats, transportation, the many things that they need upon being immediately released from jail. So I think if you want your donation dollars to go to the most direct impact, that's a great organization to support. The Chicago Community Bond Fund is another organization that is really working directly to try and support the freedom of jailed people, and organizations like Uptown People's Law Center, that are fighting for prisoner rights across the state of Illinois, I think are also really important.

Kelly Therese Pollock  44:21  
I will put links to those in the show notes. Well, Melanie, thank you so much. This I just learned so much about the city I call home and I am even more horrified as I am every time I hear about anything to do with mass incarceration, but I'm really pleased to have learned about it. So thank you.

Dr. Melanie Newport  44:41  
Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Teddy  44:46  
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Melanie NewportProfile Photo

Melanie Newport

Melanie Newport is an assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut. She teaches at the Hartford campus. She is author of the forthcoming book, This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration, coming out with University of Pennsylvania Press on November 15, 2022.

Newport hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tacoma, Washington. She took her BA from Pacific Lutheran University in 2006. She completed an MA at the University of Utah in 2009 and her PhD at Temple University in 2016.

Interdisciplinary communities are central to Newport’s work. At UConn, she is affiliated faculty in Africana Studies; American Studies; the Center on Community Safety, Policing, and Inequality, UConn Law School; Sustainable Global Cities Initiative; and Urban and Community Studies. She is active in supporting the Crime & Justice Minor at UConn.

At the University of Chicago Press, Newport is a Series Editor with the Chicago Visions and Revisions series. She is excited about acquiring and developing Chicago-related trade books in criminal justice, sociology, and history, especially those that are place-based and focus on experiences of race, class, and gender.

Newport’s research has been supported by the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago Libraries, Black Metropolis Research Consortium, the University of Chicago, and the Center for the Humanities at Temple. As a graduate student, Melanie worked as a preceptor in African American Studies at Princeton University and taught at Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia, and Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in New Jersey. She has trained with the Inside-Out Prison Education exchange.