In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph by Victoria F. Nourse

By Victoria F. Nourse

The annoying, forgotten heritage of America’s test with eugenics.

within the Nineteen Twenties and Nineteen Thirties, hundreds of thousands of fellows and ladies have been sterilized at asylums and prisons throughout the US. Believing that criminal activity and psychological sickness have been inherited, kingdom legislatures handed legislation calling for the sterilization of “habitual criminals” and the “feebleminded.” yet in 1936, inmates at Oklahoma’s McAlester criminal refused to cooperate; a guy named Jack Skinner was once the 1st to return to trial. a colourful and heroic solid of characters―from the inmates themselves to their dedicated, self-taught lawyer―would struggle the case all of the approach to the U.S. best courtroom. simply after american citizens realized the level of one other large-scale eugenics project―in Nazi Germany―would the inmates triumph. Combining engrossing narrative with sharp criminal research, Victoria F. Nourse explains the results of this landmark determination, nonetheless important today―and finds the tales of those forgotten women and men who fought for human dignity and the fundamental correct to have a kinfolk.

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Additional resources for In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics

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In 1917, Dr. Priddy, the head of the hospital where Carrie was institutionalized, had a legal problem. He was an enthusiastic advocate of sterilization, so enthusiastic that he had gone ahead and sterilized the wife and child of a local workingman and was promptly sued. Although Priddy won the case, he was warned by the court not to engage in any more sterilization operations without more precise legislative authority. By 1924, Priddy and others had convinced the Virginia legislature to pass a law providing for the sterilization of inmates within the asylum.

The warden had said that a prisoners’ committee wanted to meet with him about a legal challenge to the sterilization law. To an outsider, Briggs might not have seemed an obvious ally of the prisoners’ cause. It was Briggs who had proposed the very amendment that allowed Governor Murray to claim that the new sterilization law would deter crime, an amendment that said the law would apply to any public institution (which in theory might include prisons). But that was 1931, when Briggs, like everyone else, was thrilled with Murray.

The real secret of Skinner v. Oklahoma is not, however, about constitutional law. The vast majority of this book concerns something different: the history of crime, inequality, and nature. * The failure of such arguments over decades and even centuries should remind us of what the great anthropologist Mary Douglas has warned against: society’s tendency to ground its social order—ideas of who is high and who is low—in the idea of nature. The Supreme Court in Skinner v. Oklahoma rightly decided that “crime,” defined by arcane legal rules, cannot be found inside the “bodies” of men, that to make the great common law of crimes into a “rule of genetics” is to commit a very basic category mistake.

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