Jackson looks at the history of the first federal prison in America, the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. A major finding is that the prison "was built on a model intended to rehabilitate young prisoners on the frontier, the exact opposite of what it finally became." The author discovers the story of Frank Grigware, the only prisoner to ever escape from Leavenworth and remain free as an immigrant to Canada. Jackson finds that "real questions of innocence" surrounded Grigware's trial for train robbery. The book uses the stories of the prison and the prisoner as "vehicles for exploring the developing nature of justice in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." The author examines why the system of death penalty went wrong.
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