This is not about Django. As much as I am dying to write a post about Tarantino's new film, my academic writing beckons.
Thank you, Patrick O'Donnell, for your earlier post and bibliography on teaching prison law. I'd like to add to Professor Dolovich's call for a curricular commitment to bringing prisons and prisoners into legal education: We should not forget to include a consideration of how antebellum slavery shaped the development of America's early penal institutions.
I am hard at work on a project that looks at the administration of slavery in antebellum Virginia through the institutional prisms of the county jail and the state penitentiary. Many (many) years ago, while trying to nail down a dissertation topic, I became interested in the practice of confining alleged fugitive slaves in local, southern jails until they were "claimed" by their owners. (Many folks confined in antebellum Virginia’s local jails were never accused of any crimes, and were most often merely suspected of being runaways.) Hunted down on the roads and in the countrysides, people of discernible African ancestry were presumed to be fugitive slaves; no law prevented their seizure and confinement upon such suspicion.
Few have considered the experiences of blacks in what might be considered "civil" custody during this period; beyond those excellent monographs on slaves-as-criminal defendants (Schwarz, etc.), this other history has gone (somewhat) untold. Penal institutions in this country have troubled pasts; introducing them to our students will both spark their interests and motivate further scholarly excursions (and activism) into the field.