Histories of prisons and punishments seem to have a strange fascination for readers over the years. This book however avoids the merely sensational or bizarre by telling with great compassion and understanding the story of prisons, their slow evolution from medieval places of pain and death, and the possibilities of making them more socially useful places now and in the future. in literally hundreds of anecdotes we read about Devil's Island, 18th Century English jails where prisoners had to pay even for the air they breathed, dungeons, whippings and other tortures, and the recent shame of ""modern"" American jails where prisoners have become seriously ill or even died to lack of decent facilities. But there is a brighter side. We learn how Quakers and others worked for prison reform, how penitentiary science came about, and how psychologists and humane prison administrators gradually conquered Dark Age attitude about men in jail. Speculation on the meaning of prisons (do they punish or merely imprison or really correct wrongdoers) leads the author to question their efficacy, and to wonder if they really do any good at all. Very well researched and well assembled material from many countries and historical epochs.