Pub. date: 2005 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952514 | Print ISBN: 9780761927310 | Online ISBN: 9781412952514| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
In the middle of the 19th century, the practice of chaining prisoners together while they worked became customary in England and Australia. The iron chains weighing from six to seven pounds were riveted together by blacksmiths, inspected daily to prevent tampering, and remained attached to prisoners for the length of their sentences, between six months and two years. From its inception, the rationale of chaining convicts transcended the utilitarian notion of security. Instead, chain gangs are spectacles of punishment; being chained—especially in public—is degrading and dehumanizing. In the United States, following the Civil War, Reconstruction required manual labor to rebuild the South's economy and infrastructure. While convicts in the North worked in prison factory shops, their Southern counterparts—who were disproportionately black—labored outside prison walls on the plantations and in public works projects. During this time, chain gangs were widespread in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and ...