Violent crime, sexual deviancy and executive clemency in Florida, 1889-1918

Miller, Vivien Mary Louise (1998). Violent crime, sexual deviancy and executive clemency in Florida, 1889-1918. PhD thesis The Open University.



Between 1889 and 1918, over 11,000 persons were convicted and sentenced to hard labour in Florida's convict lease camps located in piney woods and next to phosphate mines, and run by private contractors who leased state prisoners to ensure a steady and cheap labour force. Before the introduction of probation and parole in the twentieth century, there were four routes to freedom from Florida's prison system: expiration of sentence, death, escape and pardon. This study focuses on the pardon route.

Florida's State Board of Pardons was a constitutional creation empowered to commute punishments, grant pardons and restore civil rights to convicted felons and misdemeanants. The Board was a necessary component of the state's criminal justice apparatus in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the general inadequacy of the penal arrangements and the discretionary nature of the criminal justice system. While pardon was intended as an extraordinary device rather than a regular or ordinary release procedure, between 1889 and 1918, pardon in Florida was in effect a regular releasing device for a significant minority of offenders, and a substitute for parole.

Pardon board records show how the culture and prejudices of a society, in this case Florida society, continued to affect offenders even after conviction. Constructions of criminal behaviour, based on community prejudices and the attitudes of the pardoning board members themselves, informed decisions to grant or withhold clemency to offenders convicted of the sexual and interpersonal violence offences which are the focus of this study. Letters from prisoners and supporters, petitions and endorsements addressed to the Board of Pardons, the Governor or other individual Board members, and attorneys provide important insights into class, race and gender relations in Florida in a period of significant economic and political change.

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