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Cover Art
Author Hamm, Theodore, 1966-

Title Rebel and a cause : Caryl Chessman and the politics of the death penalty in postwar California, 1948-1974 / Theodore Hamm.

Published Berkeley : University of California Press, [2001]


Location Call No. Status
 UniM Bail  364.6609749 HAMM    AVAILABLE
Bibliography Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents 1. Antithesis of Reform 11 -- 2. Sex Crimes of the Red Light Bandit (1948-1954) 38 -- 3. Rehabilitation of a Criminal "Genius" (1954-1960) 66 -- 4. A Tale of Two Protests (1950-1960) 92 -- 5. Chessman's Ghost (1960-1974) 135 -- Conclusion: 1974 and Beyond 162.
Summary Theodore Hamm uses the 1960 execution of Caryl Chessman as a springboard for examining how politics and debates about criminal justice became a volatile mix that ignited postwar California. The effects of those years continue to be felt as the state's three-strikes law and expanding prison-construction program spark heated arguments over rehabilitation and punishment.
Known as the "red light bandit," Chessman stalked lovers' lanes in Los Angeles. Eventually convicted of rape and kidnapping, he was sentenced to death in 1948. In prison he gained significant notoriety as a writer, beginning with his autobiographical Cell 2455 Death Row (1954). In the following years Chessman presented himself not only as an innocent man but also as one rehabilitated from his prior life of crime. He acquired an enthusiastic audience among leading criminologists, liberal intellectuals, and ordinary citizens, many of whom engaged in protests to halt Chessman's execution. Hamm analyzes how Chessman convinced thousands of Californians to support him and why Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, who opposed the death penalty, allowed the execution to go forward. He also demonstrates the intrinsic limits of the popular commitment to the rehabilitative ideal -- limits based on race, type of crime, and perceptions of public safety.
Hamm places the Chessman case in a broad cultural and historical context, relating it to histories of prison reform, the anti-death penalty movement, the popularization of psychology, and the successive rise and decline of the New Left and the more enduring rise of the New Right. His persuasive analysis is valuable in understanding the symbolic politics behind "law and order" movements not only in California but throughout the United States.
Subject Chessman, Caryl, 1921-1960.
Capital punishment -- California -- History -- 20th century.
Death row inmates -- California.
ISBN 0520224272 (alk. paper)
0520224280 (paperback: alk. paper)