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This study reviews selected aspects of the Louisiana State Penitentiary since its origin. The interpretations are based on data from historical sources, statistical reports, personal documents and participant observation. The interpretations of these data are placed in an historical perspective, allowing corrections of certain deficiencies in the literature and permitting consideration of issues which require an historical perspective. The penitentiary reflects the interests of the greater society, in terms of the composition of its inmate population and the manner in which this population is used.

Originally the penitentiary housed an immigrant white population in an urban penitentiary applying penological principles identical with those existing in the northern states. The subsequent transformation into a plantation system of predominantly Negro inmates is interpreted in terms of post-Civil War developments. And it is implied that the contemporary penitentiary with its philosophy of rehabilitation and its youthful, urban population reflects a similar shift in conditions of the greater society. The social organization of the penitentiary is analyzed in y terms of a privilege-deprivational system which structures the adaptative patterns of the inmate population and which determines who possesses the basic elements of power. From the original recommendations of Edward Livingston that the administration rationally create broad differentials in privilege and deprivation, to the contemporary penitentiary program which seeks to equalize all privileges and minimize deprivations, major changes in power structure are analyzed. Generalizations are made that under an autocratic regime which involves inmates by selectively distributing material resources, administration maintains power and becomes the orientation of inmate behavior; in an egalitarian system, administration relinquishes control of the penal environment and an inmate social system gradually dominates that environment; similarly, in a totalitarian system, administration places insurmountable barriers between itself and inmates and again the inmate social system becomes the dominant influence.