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52 Fed. Probation 33 (1988)
Military Training at New York's Elmira Reformatory, 1888-1920

handle is hein.journals/fedpro52 and id is 35 raw text is: Military Training at New York's
Elmira Reformatory, 1888-1920
Associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice Sciences,
Illinois State University

N THE controversial Discipline and Punish,
Michel Foucault outlines the relationships be-
tween the prison and several other social
institutions, including the military, as each developed
into its modern form. According to Foucault, the
birth of the modern prison, a private environment for
reform, was accompanied by the demise of torture,
execution, and other corporal punishments, which
had been public spectacles of retribution. Each
element of those older public spectacles had to
speak, repeat the crime, recall the law, show the
need for punishment and justify its degree. This
representative, scenic, signifying, public, collective
model was replaced by the coercive, corporal,
solitary, secret model of the power to punish, which
was the prison. And the military pattern or model
of regimentation, discipline, and obedience was one
of five used to develop the modern prison. From those
five models, Foucault argues, a 'political autonomy',
which was also a 'mechanics of power', was being
born; it defined how one may have hold over others'
bodies, not only so that they do what one wishes, but
so that they may operate as one wishes, with the
techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one
determines. This political anatomy developed
from intertwined, imitative minor processes which
were adopted in response to particular needs.'
Dealing with the birth of the prison, Foucault does
not trace the influence of the military model beyond
the initial stages of the prison. He implies a hardiness
or consistency in its use, and other scholars have
interpreted his Discipline and Punish as more nearly
an outline of the entirety of prison history, both in
Europe and in the United States.2 However, beyond
brief references to primarily juvenile institutions in
Europe, historians have not tested Foucault's model
by exploring certain basic questions. How precisely
and how successfully did individual prisons use the
military model? And how did specific wars, increas-
1 Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vin-
tage, 1979 [1975], pp. 111, 131, 138.
2Allan MegilU, Foucault, Structuralism, and the Ends of History, Journal of
Modem History, 51,3 (September 1979): 451-503.

ingly sophisticated weaponry, and changing public
ideas about the military affect the long-term
applicability of the military model to prisons?
The 19th century introduction and development
of military training at New York's Elmira Refor-
matory, part of the state's prison system, would seem
to confirm several of Foucault's contentions. The
training was instituted to meet an emergency, but
survived long after the short-lived trouble. The
military organization permeated almost every aspect
of the institution: schooling, manual training, sports
teams, physical training, daily time-tables, supervi-
sion of inmates, and even parole practices. In short,
the training was used to discipline the inmates and
organize the institution.
Contrary to Foucault's argument, Elmira and its
military training presented a synthesis of both the
newer, private corporal and the older, public col-
lective punishment. While designed to punish
felons, Elmira, more than any other single adult penal
institution in the United States, also represented the
late 19th century's primary emphasis on reform, an
extended form of discipline. Elmira's administrators
engineered several different public spectacles of
reform and rehabilitation, including state fair
exhibits and baseball games open to a carefully
selected public. The reformatory regiment offered the
clearest examples of the individual and collective
aspects of both punishment and rehabilitation. An
inmate's body was to be trained against his will so
as to discipline the whole of the inmate, a whole sub-
sumed in progressively larger collectives-the com-
pany, the battalion, and the regiment. The measured
steps of the regiment were to be measures of reform
accomplished or anticipated in offenders once out of
step with society's morals. Different colored uni-
forms, replaced by different collar insignia, an-
nounced to all observers the prisoners' grades or
roughly their nearness to parole under indeterminate
sentences. The military regiment was displayed with
greater selectivity and care than had been employed
in the older public spectacles of torture, for only
screened visitors saw the regularly scheduled dress
parades. But wider audiences saw the regiment

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