Penal Reform and Progressive Ideology (reviewing David J. Rothman, Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and its Alternatives in Progressive America (1980))

Guyora Binder, University at Buffalo School of Law


In Conscience and Convenience, David Rothman examined the development of a series of Progressive era responses to social deviance: probation, parole, the juvenile court, the therapeutic mental hospital, and outpatient mental health care. Although animated by a new sense that deviance was best corrected through individualized treatment aimed at acclimating the deviant to society rather than isolating him therefrom, these reforms were undone by the indifference, lethargy and venality of those charged with implementing them. This review essay critiques the book’s disappointingly thin account of the reformers’ ideas, which leaves the reader uncertain as to what it is distinctively “Progressive” about their reforms.