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Built in the 1890s at the center of the nation, Leavenworth Federal
Penitentiary was designed specifically to be a replica of the US
Capitol Building. But why? The Prison of Democracy
the political significance of a prison built to mimic one of
America’s monuments to democracy. Locating Leavenworth in
memory, history, and law, the prison geographically sits at the
borders of Indian Territory (1825–1854) and Bleeding Kansas
(1854–1864), both sites of contestation over slavery and
freedom. Author Sara M. Benson argues that Leavenworth reshaped the
design of punishment in America by gradually normalizing
state-inflicted violence against citizens. Leavenworth’s
peculiar architecture illustrates the real roots of mass
incarceration—as an explicitly race- and nation-building
system that has been ingrained in the very fabric of US history
rather than as part of a recent post-war racial history. The book
sheds light on the truth of the painful relationship between the
carceral state and democracy in the US—a relationship that
thrives to this day.