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I'm all really wrong to the press, the inmates, of course, and how to run other wives on the administration depends solely on them for the work that's done here. This is the community of the condemned, the story of the forgotten ones, in the world in which they live, the jails and prisons of America. What are they like? Here is the story as told by leading prison authorities and by the prisoners themselves. Produced for the Educational Television and Radio Center, and featuring Joseph D. Lohman, eminent sociologist and for four years Sheriff of Cook County Illinois. Freedom is prized by men everywhere.
At one time or another, every condition and race of mankind has fought and even died to security. But only the men who have been denied freedom or who have lost it, truly know its meaning. Most of it just take it for granted. We only feel the full impact of its meaning when we have lost it, like a fish that has been lifted out of the water or a man that is gasping for breath. This is why a prison is so far beyond the understanding of most of us. It is, in short, the denial of freedom, more than anything else. And it is this which embitteres the inmate, bring them closer together in their misery and their desperation. That is why they spend each waking hour scheming and plotting, conniving to regain their freedom or to regain the privileges that they have lost while in jail or prison. Any man who administers a large group of regulated men, whether he be the general of an army or the warden of a penitentiary, becomes in some degree subject to the will of those men.
In a moment we will talk to a prison inmate and learn from him what goes on in the secret recesses of his and the other inmate's minds. And then to an administrator who will tell us of his experience in dealing with these secrets of the prisoners themselves, these understandings of the men apart. The prisoners you see have a power, a collective influence, and this must be recognized. Indeed, it can shape the fortunes not only of the men themselves, but of the very administration which stands over them. The men who have lost their freedom make a special point of using this naked collective power of their own to assert their will over the administration. For they have no other influence over their situation. No other means by which they can control their fortunes or begin to express their own feelings. If we recognize this fact about social groups generally, it can make the difference between a jail which is in constant stright and turmoil or one in which the social power of the inmates identifies with that of the warden and the administration. It is true that the warden, the guards, and the other professional personnel must run the prison.
They have the responsibility for doing this, but their success is dependent upon how well they know the means by which the inmates secretly plot and connive to impose their will upon each other and indeed upon the administration itself. No prison is run exclusively by the warden and the guards. The inmates, in the least, help run the prison and often they can become as influential. If not more so, then the prison administration itself. So it is inmates who run the prison by this secret power. How they run it will be determined by the degree to which the warden is aware of this condition in his inmate population. From outside such a building, outside its wire fences, outside the steel bars, it would appear that this institution is run by the administration. And that the prisoners are mere pawns moving here and there through the corridors of the institution at the women fancy of the warden and his guards.
The truth is that these men determine the character of the institution because they supply the manpower to do its work. And there is much that is to be done, merely to maintain it, to improve it, to develop new construction projects necessary to their incarceration. The men are there to wash the windows, but these are the less preferable jobs and amongst them there is a competition so that some get this kind of job if they have the skills up front in the office. Some down in the bakery, some in the kitchen where the food is better, all of them assemble here and in their own ways the population is sifted and sorted. And as a result of it, they run the institutions with their skills and with their purpose. We are here within one of the largest beam institutions from the United States and that's here from one who has spent considerable time in such an institution and others' life. About who runs the prison? Tom, you spent considerable time in this benedictory, haven't you?
As I have long been here, I've been here actually, how much more ago, 27 months? And you've been with another institution, have you? I have, I've been a jail and a work house. How long were there? About six months in a work house. And in the jail, for about a couple years, up a year ago. Now, you've got a chance to see the relationship of the inmates to one another and to the administration. What makes the place take who runs the jail of the benedictory? Well, in any institution, the inmates run the institution. Well, that's a large statement, what do you mean by the inmates running? Well, all the skilled jobs and everything, the inmates do all of the work. And secondly, the man would be the office. They turn the keys. And the administration is an overhead, an overwise, in other words. And she inmates that, the inmates are a very minority. You know, that, if I would opinion that, the world's comprised of leaders and colleagues and the naturally leaders would be a minority, and thus be the case in an institution. And the inmates that are straightforward and blunt and always endeavoring, not just for themselves, the inmates as a whole, better than conditions there.
And to do something progressive wouldn't help with the administration. Of course, the administration must be progressive for a district to take effect. Now, if they arrange a board with something new, something to benefit the inmates, then the turmoil and the chaos begin. Because the officers, they don't like that. And so, as a consequence, they begin to sabotage all plans and make it hard on the inmates that are endeavoring to take forward, go forward with these progressive steps. And he's in the middle. Now, the average one is, in your experience, is he aware of the fact that he is dependent in this sense in which you suggest, upon the inmate population and successful they're running the prison of the jail? I'm sure of that. What if he isn't? What if the inmate he runs it? Well, then he's in bad shape. Why do you say that? Because I don't think that he should be worried if he's not aware of that, the inmate that he depends almost solely on the inmates and the officers to carry out his order if he can't do it himself.
Well, suppose he arbitrarily pushes them around. We're inmate speaking about that. What happens? Well, they create a situation themselves. I would no ever bring the officers to court. And thereby, they create a chaos which the warden made. So, he has to appreciate and understand the power that the inmates have by their very numbers and by their leadership. Else, he can't have run the institution successful. That's right. What does this mean, as far as the attitudes of the inmate taught the administration's concern? How do they feel about the guards? About the guard, well, I don't know. They believe that about 75% of the officers in any institution, if they were capable of having a job outside of the institution, they wouldn't be here. You mean to say that it's only a job that incapable would be supported with, except? I try.
What's your evidence of that? I mean, you just feel this way or do you see that in the kind of guard? Well, I think that about 65% of the officers are suffering from illusions of that. They have foes, and they're sad, and they won't, they're ego-making, and they try and then they're springing on the inmate because they believe that. And thereby, they have the feeling of importance. Well, now all of this would seem to suggest that the prison doesn't have exactly the kind of influence, either through the guards or in the way in which the prisoners run the institution on the individual. But what is the effect of this kind of relationship upon the inmate attitude? He's bitter, and he becomes more bitter at the time, but he can't help but become more bitter. Because society don't do anything for an inside of the institution, nor outside of the institution, they believe that society, on a whole, all they think of, is building bitter, bigger institutions to hold inmates. And his problem, they don't know anything about it, neither do they care about it.
And at the time they went, they turned out hard and perfectly able to talk about it. I think most institutions are talking about the implementation of the guards because I don't know what good intention the man had. He must face reality in that case. Does that attitude of yours typical, or are you just one that's especially bitter? No, I'm not especially bitter, but I think that from experience, I think I can speak with a little authority. I mean, I didn't serve institutions, and I have spent, instead of a time there. And I think that this is the inside of the institution, society only sees the outside story. And their analogy's only solution, but this is the problem. What do you think, Tom, that a prison can be run in such a way that this bitterness, and this hostility, this opposition of the inmate population, is holding itself to itself, can be minimized, can you run them differently, and still keep manning prison?
That's right. Wow. Well, first of all, I think he must have, he must have a privacy administration. One that wants to move forward, go upward, and frontwards to the downward, backwards. Then he must have intelligent and open-minded officers. Will the go-along be a administration? And thereby the inmate will go along, because all inmate want to progress. I mean, for example, education, and otherwise, it's like a very trade. And I'm sure that no man is right, man. If we are to believe the prisoners, it is the inmates who run the prisons. Let's ask a warden, one of America's most distinguished prison administrators, whether this be true. Our guest today is one of the most distinguished prison administrators in the United States.
Warden John C. Burke. For 19 years, the head of the Wisconsin State Prison at Warpon, Wisconsin, and a past president of the American Correctional Association. Warden, we're glad to have you with us. Can you tell us who runs the prisons? Well, I'd like to be able to tell you that the warden and his staff always completely runs any prison or jail or institution. But unfortunately, I can't quite say that, because sometimes it isn't totally true. The inmates in an institution often have quite an influence on that type of a situation. If, however, the warden, any staff are akin and conscious of all of the good things they ought to do when a constructive prison program. If they are a staff dedicated to their work that are trained, that are qualified, that are humanly interested in people and sponsor a real constructive program.
Chances are they'll come close to running the prison themselves. If they're not that type, however, and if they are not aware of the fact that an inmate in a prison needs protection from other prisoners. If they are not fully conscious of the needs to provide good food, good clean living quarters, or not conscious of the fact that you must have a constructive program of moral rebuilding of education, of psychiatric health, and those things. Then you're going to find prisoners ready to step in to take over and do something about these problems just as soon as the prison administration starts failing. And so we can't quite say that the officials always run a prison. They are ever faced with that problem of the prisoners wanting to and being willing to take over part of it. Well, are there some prisons where they do actually take over and where the program there reflects their will and their purpose and therefore the inmates that go out are the product of their control?
I certainly say that the history of American prisons indicate that there are places at times where the inmates come pretty close to running the program as a matter of fact in some places. At times certain prison people have, as much as said, we'll watch the walls and not let men escape and not be too concerned about what happens inside. Fortunately, that doesn't go to that extent in most prisons, but in varying degrees, they go from prisoners almost running it up to where prisoners do not run the institutions. Well, if the prisoners can take over and do, they apparently do it in the face of the inadequacy or the failure on the part of the administration to recognize its task and its job. Now, what are some of the factors which make for or against the success of the prison administration in keeping the prison according to their views and in their direction rather than let it be run by the prisoners? Well, a minute the prison staff, and this is from the warden on down through his entire staff, the minute that group are not on their toes or not dedicated to their work or not the people that understand the needs of men are not in tune with the best programs that can be put into effect, you have that trouble.
Now, if you're going to have a system in any particular state where you pay very low salary, it's quite evidence you can't attract good people to work in prisons. What is the average salary for guards, for example? Well, that varies an awful lot during the state. Wisconsin, particularly right now, we start a guard at a little over $300. I have no states that have played in just recent years, as low as $80 a month. I think of one state that recently, within the last couple of years, had serious trouble. And I know that the figures show that somewhere over 50 percent of the guards in that institution were over 70 years of age. Some of them couldn't even climb up to the upper tiers of the institution and would give inmates keys to do their duties.
That prison had these kinds of men because for the price they paid, they could only get men that were worn out on other jobs that were retired that were laid off and would take a little job. Well, if you have men like that, manning the walls and taking care generally of the prison and discharging all of the custodial functions, you're putting some men up against some prisoners who aren't quite equal to the talent, the leadership, and the initiative of the prisoners themselves. That's right. That's just what happens. And you have in a population of a couple thousand prisoners, some pretty shrewd men, some fellows that have a lot of ability, you have a lot of leadership. And they're ready to take over if you have these weak type of employees. So if you can't pay enough, if there's politics in the system so that you're going to leave your men out every couple of years, you just can't attract the kind you want. One state, for instance, in the southern part of the country, used to use all inmate guards.
They decided to hire civilian guards to go along with them. And as they were starting this program, I happened to visit that prison. And quite of the warden, so whether he felt there was a great improvement in how he was getting civilian guards. And he said he wished he could say that, but he couldn't. Because outside of his two thousand prisoners, he could pick the best. And for the eighty dollars a month he paid for civilians he got just eighty dollars worth. And they weren't sharp enough, they weren't keen enough, they weren't the kind of men that could do as good a job as his best prisoners. And it's a pretty sad state of affairs when you try to run prisons that way. And then it's when you come close to saying the prisoners run the place. Well, if that's true of a situation where the warden is aware of the qualities of some of his prisoners, this contrasts it with his guards. How much more of a problem is it when the warden or the administration doesn't even take into account this superior leadership and talent which is within the inmate population,
and which is pitted against the guards. Anytime a warden doesn't come to realize the potential influence of his prisoners, he's in trouble and is beginning to lose track of his particular line of work. It's hard for me to conceive or believe, however, that any man could be a warden of an institution for very long. Without finding out that that back of his staff is this ever present chance that the inmates are ready to take over. The warden prison has a lot of duties, a lot of jobs that have to be discharged. And many of these, of course, are manned by inmates themselves. I suspect some of them are regarded as better by the inmates than other. What does the administration do about the way in which these jobs are infiltrated by the prisoners themselves with some going to those who know where they're going and what's left over going to the others? Well, there again, the person has to be sure that its staff is deciding where inmates are going to work, its staff must decide where inmates are going to sleep, its staff must decide where they're going to work.
If you don't watch, however, you'll have an inmate working in an office, let's say, in the office of the civilian who assigns inmates to work. And if that man isn't strong, if that man doesn't take all of his job himself, he soon finds this inmate quick pointing out to him that so-and-so is a very fine man, he's very talented, he do a good job. And he gets assigned to that job and pretty soon the inmate is assigning them in and named all the civilians, but it practiced actually the inmate is because this week the employee is being taken in. And that's a very dangerous thing in prisons and yet things like that go every once in a while. What you've been commenting on, Gordon, represents a long experience and an insight that came out of working through the years with the problem of administering a penitentiary. These aren't things that a guard or a newcomer to prison work would know as of his own experience or background, but to what extent do we have training and preparation for prison work as a career service in this country today?
There's a never-increasing program in that throughout the country, but unfortunately, still in many places, the man is hired in the morning, he's immediately assigned to his job and goes to work. And I hate to say it, but in many places learns what his job is from the inmates in the shop where he is assigned. In many prisons, however, are doing something about it. Our little program is only an illustration of what some others are doing. All last winter, 150 employees of ours gave freely on their own time, 12 hours during the winter, 12 one-hour sessions of in-service training, and which we explained and had explained to them the work of the constructive side of the prison, the psychiatric service, the parole service, the school, and all the rest, and saw those men come to understand the work of the constructive side of the program. I said to report to you, Warden, that whereas this is unusual from the standpoint of penitentiaries, and nevertheless is a mark toward which other prisons might shoot, this situation is totally absent for the most part from the jail programs of the United States.
There is an even sufficient tenure of office for the personnel, because they are subject to the whims and fortunes of politics, so that the inmates have greater continuity, or therefore longer period of time than the guards, and they are forced therefore to learn how to run the jail from the inmates who have been there before they have been there. The sake of the inmates being there longer is even more true in our prisons, where we have men serving long sentences. One thing I might mention you said something about being there a long time and from experience learning. Must I point out that we never learn this work? There's something new every day. I've often thought I've been there that long, there can't be any new tricks, new things going, but there are. And you have to keep abreast of it every day or you'll be way behind.
Well, thank you, Warden, for these insights into what makes a prison take, and when, if possible, it can be administered by the authorities, and when, if possible, we can take into account these things that happen on the other side of the fence, so to speak amongst the prisoners themselves. We've had as our guest today one of America's most distinguished panologists, a famous warden, the head of the Wisconsin State Prison at Warpon, Wisconsin, Warden, John C. Berth. Everywhere, men are influenced by their life in groups, and there are groups in prisons and in jails, and these enter affirmatively into the operation of these institutions. They influence the lives of the men, and indeed they influence the lives of the administration as well. The denial of freedom, combined with the ordinary attrition of the normal prison life, forces the inmates of the prison into a community of interests. How this community of interests is dealt with by the prison administration determines the use to which this collective expression of the prison community is put.
How it will influence them is largely a matter of how much it is recognized and what is done with it by those who administer the prison. The prison may supply the necessities of life to the prisoner, is clothing, is food, a predictable future, but if the prison fails to give conventional outlets to men, through adequate programs of rehabilitation, and then supply for them a satisfaction of the drive for individual and group expression, this desire, this need will turn upon the men themselves and through the men, direct the prison and its destinies, direct it toward delinquent and criminal aims rather than the constructed purposes of the institution and its administration. In this way, the inmates sets the terms and values of the prison in secret, unknown defiance of the best intentioned professional staff, that the prisoners have a role in prison management as well known. Nearly everyone observes this. It ranges all the way from such an expression and extreme one has let the cons wrong the joint. They know more about it than we do anyway.
To, for example, that unrestrained expression of a war that says, I run the prison alone. Everything I say is the law and they will do what I want them to do. But of course, in fact, the cons most frequently run the prison, more often than the wards and wardens or the guards, more often because this kind of a warden does not know how they can be in secret defiance of the administration. The reasons that the inmates run the prison are usually such things as inadequate staff, resulting of course from the heavy hand of partisan politics, from the turnover of personnel, which knows the prison not so well as the inmates themselves, does not know its secret places and its climates and the understandings that have arisen there. And of course, the sense in which persons have no stake or interest in the improvement of the prison reflected in the fact of their low salaries and their low commitments of their freedom themselves to the administration of that institution.
And then on the other hand, there is a sense in which this secret life of the prison can be enlarged and become important because of inadequate opportunities through limited budgets for the development of constructive activities to preoccupy the minds and the limbs of the men in those institutions. The inmate community may of course be redirected so that the energies of that community may be channeled in legitimate ways, in legitimate directions. The inmates have a role in running the prison and this role has its legitimate and of course on the other hand illegitimate aspects. The legitimate aspects concern the opportunities for individual and group self expression. These, if they are afforded, will direct the energies of the inmate population into the legitimate channels. And indeed a competent professional staff which is in fact running the prison will afford opportunities for such legitimate personal and group expression.
This has been community of the condemned, produced for the educational television and radio center featuring Joseph D. Lohman, eminent sociologist and for four years Sheriff of Cook County Illinois. This is National Educational Television.
Community of the Condemned
Episode Number
Who Runs the Prisons?
Producing Organization
WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
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Library of Congress (Washington, District of Columbia)
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Episode Description
The special guest this episode is John C. Burke. Mr. Burke is warden at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waunpin, WI. An inmate views about who really controls the operation of a prison are expressed during an on-location interview. Criminologist Joseph D. Lohman sketches the relationship of the administration to the inmate community and the ways in which the inmates' group influences the administration. Burke and Lohman explore the prisoner's role, both legitimate and otherwise, in prison management, and discuss the redirection of this community activity into legitimate channels which a professional staff can provide. Lohman notes the need for constructive outlets for individual and group expression, without which inmate energies are directed into hostile and anti-social channels. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
Series Description
Community of the Condemned brings to the public a searching study of penal institutions and correctional systems and their inmates, indicating the damage done by outmoded penal practices which follow upon lack of understanding, inadequate information and public apathy. In each case, nationally-known criminologist Joseph D. Lohman discusses the problem with a group of guest experts. On-location filmed prison scenes and direct interviews with actual prison inmates are seen. Various differences in prisoners are investigated along with the multiple kinds of institutions, often too all-equipped to allow beneficial results. The dramatic need for new procedures, new kinds of institutions and correctional programs, and professional, well-trained staffs to administer them is indicated during the series. Joseph D. Lohman, nationally-known criminologist and Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois since 1954, is the host for this series. Lohman is Consultant on Juvenile Delinquency to the Ford Foundation and has been a member of the staff of the University of Chicago since 1947. He was chairman of the Division of Corrections of the State of Illinois from 1949-1952, and chairman, Parole and Pardon Board of the State of Illinois from1952-1953. He has been a director of the American Prison Association and a director and past president of the Illinois Academy of Criminology. Lohman received his B.A. degree from the University of Denver and his M.A. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1931. The 26 half-hour episodes comprising the series were originally recorded on videotape. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
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Social Issues
Published Work: This work was offered for sale and/or rent in 1960.
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Guest: Burke, John C.
Host: Lohman, Joseph D.
Producing Organization: WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
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Library of Congress
Identifier: 2302805-1 (MAVIS Item ID)
Format: 16mm film
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Color: B&W
Library of Congress
Identifier: 2302805-2 (MAVIS Item ID)
Format: 16mm film
Generation: Copy: Access
Color: B&W
Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive
Identifier: [request film based on title] (Indiana University)
Format: 16mm film

Identifier: cpb-aacip-512-gx44q7rq23.mp4 (mediainfo)
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Duration: 00:29:28
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Chicago: “Community of the Condemned; 9; Who Runs the Prisons?,” 1958-00-00, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 2, 2024,
MLA: “Community of the Condemned; 9; Who Runs the Prisons?.” 1958-00-00. Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 2, 2024. <>.
APA: Community of the Condemned; 9; Who Runs the Prisons?. Boston, MA: Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from