Philip Goodman, University of Toronto and Katie Quinn, University of Missouri-St Louis

In this presentation we examine the curious stability of outdoor penal labour in California in the 20th century against a shifting social and penal field. Analysing state archival data on prison highway and forestry camps between 1915 and 2000, we frame the persistence of these practices as evidence of a penal labour palimpsest.

We demonstrate how the agency and interpretive innovation of penal administrators – as the architects and interpreters of this palimpsest – served as a stabilising mechanism akin to, but distinct from, existing theories of path dependence. Zooming out from the intricacies of the historical record, we position this case as revealing some of the limits of strict theories of path dependence and, instead, as offering a more dynamic understanding of the complex, intersecting and malleable ways in which history matters.

Phil and Katie’s article ‘The palimpsest of outdoor penal labour in California, 1915–2000’ which was published in the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1111/hojo.12503 will be sent to attendees ahead of the presentation for background reading.

This event is part of the Social Analysis of Penality across Boundaries Workshop Series organised by Professor Richard Sparks, Scottish Centre for Crime & Justice Research, and Professor Máximo Sozzo, Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Argentina.

Photo Credit: Taken from Goodman and Quinn’s paper in the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice. This is from the Californian Division of Forestry, 1968.