How a Model Prison Became America's Scariest

USP Lewisberg: from rehabilitation to hardcore 'attitude adjustment'

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 24, 2013 5:20 PM CST

(Newser) – A prison that once encouraged upbeat activities among inmates is now home to the nation's nastiest criminals and severe prison tactics—a transformation that may say a lot about our prison system in general. An academic article, summarized by Justin Peters at Slate, recounts how the USP Lewisberg facility in Pennsylvania "stressed reform over retribution" when it opened in 1932. Prisoners were allowed to play sports, stage plays, and farm crops, all part of a belief that recreation kept inmates from turning morose and irritable.

Maybe Lewisburg was never that nice, but when rehabilitation fell out of vogue in the 1970s and parole was abolished for federal prisoners in 1984, the facility underwent a sea change. Now the most violent and difficult prisoners are sent there for "attitude adjustments," kept in tight 2-man cells that breed violence and ostensibly make inmates never want to come back. Maybe that makes other prisons safer, but "purchasing safety for the many by brutalizing a few is a devil’s bargain," writes Peters. "It is a solution unworthy of a civilized nation." See his full piece.

USP Lewisberg.   (Wikimedia Commons)
  (Shutterstock)
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