Vanderbilt Law Review


Ward M. McAfee

First Page



In 1918 James H. Wilkins proudly proclaimed that crime was on the wane. Speaking at the end of a long career in California's state prison system, Wilkins had seen the presumed eradication of the opium habit among State prisoners, the reduction and sup-posed elimination of corporal punishment in the State's prisons,and the introduction of the parole system. He wrote:

"All this tends to material betterment in the present condition and future out-look of prison populations .... It is a long cry before our prisons, jails and other like institutes of detention will bear upon their rusty gates the legend" closed for want of inmates." But we are heading in the right direction, and in that direction I trust society will persevere."

We, however, live in another time. Today, few share Wilkins'unabashed optimism for the possibility of reforming America's prisons and their inhabitants. Far more common now is the concern that past and present experiments in prison reform have proven too costly. The dominant mood today is that prison management should be more cost-effective. At a time when all social services are under review, state prison expenses are experiencing especially close scrutiny. Within this context, private, for-profit prisons are viewed as a possible alternative.'

Included in

Law Commons