Hannah Srajer

Ph.D. Student, Department of History, Yale University

2022 to 2023
Research Fellow

The Torture Cure: Behavior Modification and Rehabilitative Logics in the American Carceral State, 1960-1990

Through a study of behavior modification programs in federal and state prisons from the late 1960s to the 1990s, my research project illuminates the scientific-medico logics that underlie the US prison system. While historians of incarceration understand the decline of the rehabilitative model of corrections as responsible for the rise of mass incarceration, I see the shifts within the rehabilitative model—the rehabilitative logic of corrections itself—as factors that built our carceral society. Informed by the behavioral turn in US psychology, prison administrators, physicians, and correctional officers invested heavily in these programs, which required the construction of locked units with six separate levels inmates advanced through by modeling positive behavior. Following activism against behavior modification, I chart how unprecedented federal and state funding for “scientific” law and order techniques, research produced by medical and scientific experts, and trends in academic psychology facilitated the shift towards this new carceral technology.