The Public Interest

Of prisons, asylums, and other decaying institutions

David J. Rothman

Winter 1972

OVER the course of the past several decades, without clear theoretical justification or even a high degree of self-consciousness, we have been completing a revolution in the treatment of the insane, the criminal, the orphaned, the delinquent, and the poor. Whereas once we relied almost exclusively upon incarceration to treat or punish these classes of people, we now frame and administer many programs that maintain them within the community or at least remove them as quickly as possible from institutions. Policy makers in each of these areas interpret their own measures as specific responses to internal developments- an advance in drug therapy or a dissatisfaction with prevailing penitentiary conditions- not as part of a general anti-institutional movement. But such a movement exists, and it must be seen in a comprehensive way if it is ever to be understood.

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