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"Solitary" (The Survey)
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By Winthrop D. Lane of the SURVEY Staff
What kind of jailer is Uncle Sam? Ever since the war took four million young men out of civil life at the period when crimes and misdemeanors are most frequent, there have come stories of the treatment of the inmates of military prisons. There have been accusations of overcrowding and of mistreatment, particularly of political prisoners. To get at the truth of conditions, the National Civil Liberties Bureau and the SURVEY commissioned Mr. Lane to visit the three disciplinary barracks, two United States penitentiaries, several county jails and one state prison in which federal prisoners were confined. His instructions were to become as familiar as possible with the actual workings of these institutions and, in reporting on them to readers of the SURVEY, to present the good with the bad. His articles, of which this is the first, refrain from the conventional discussion of theories about criminals and the causes of their wrong-doing. They describe rather what men do in prison, how they live from day to day, how they are punished and what effect the punishment has on them, whether prison life prepares them for a renewed grappling with the world at large on their return.-- EDITOR.
I. The war has greatly augmented interest in our military prisons. People who a few months ago had never heard of these institutions are now asking what manner of places they are. Mothers whose boys went off proudly to France or to camp while men were still needed for fighting suddenly learned that their sons were now in prison. In prison! What did it mean? What kind of prison? What punishment were their sons receiving? How did Uncle Sam treat those who offered their lives for their country and then broke faith with the new environment in which they found themselves? The friends of conscientious objectors, too, heard stories of cruelties practised [sic], and demanded the truth.
Peace cannot lessen this interest. The men sent to our military prisons during the war are still there, with the exception of a few hundred who have received clemency. Others are arriving every day, for the army of the United States is still a large organization and, if present signs point true, will continue to be So long as a soldier exists, the military prison is an important feature of national life. Not only is it charged with rehabilitating hundreds of young me. It is in some measure a test of military enlightenment. It shows the discipline of the soldier. It tells us what the soldier thinks of his fellow man, for our conception of human nature is revealed by the methods we take to reform it.