Rewiring the Prison: Early Radio as a Carceral Technology

Ian James Alexander


Federal prisons in the early 20th century used the technology of radio for distinct ends. The prison at Atlanta facilitated a broadcast concert at the local radio station, with an entirely incarcerated band. At Leavenworth, in Kansas, a warden tried to maintain control over his facility by permitting long radio listening hours for prisoners through individual headsets wired into cells rather than in areas where people could gather. Meanwhile, prison educators believed radio to be a powerful tool in their mission to reform their subjects. This moment of indetermination—for both radio and the new Federal Bureau of Prisons—offers insight into the role of media in the practice of incarceration, as well as in the struggle against it.


incarceration, prison, radio, media history, abolition, carceral technology

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