James V. Bennett

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James V. Bennett

James Van Benschoten Bennett (born 29 August 1894 in Silver Creek, New York, United States; died 1978) was a leading American penal reformer and prison administrator who served as director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) from 1937 to 1964.[1] He was Assistant Director of the Bureau to Sanford Bates prior to this from 1930-1937. A U.S. Army Air Corps veteran of World War I, he became an Investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Efficiency in 1919 and in 1928 authored "The Federal Penal and Correctional Problem" whilst there which called for a new centralized prison bureau which led to the creation of the Bureau of Prisons.[2]

Bennett was of the view that prisons had become inhumane and poorly operated and that extensive reform was needed. From as early as 1939 he was a strong critic of the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.[1] During the 1950s he was one of the strongest advocates in the movement in persuading Congress to close Alcatraz and replace it with a new maximum-security prison, eventually successful in 1963 when it closed.[1] He was also a prominent member of numerous U.S. delegations to the International Penal and Penitentiary Congress and the United Nations' Congress on the Prevention of Crime and President of many institutions such as the National Association for Better Broadcasting and American Correctional Association (ACA), and was chairman of the American Bar Association Section on Criminal Law.[2]

Beginning on August 11, 1943, eighteen conscientious objectors of World War II at the Danbury Correctional Institution in Connecticut, went on a 135-day work strike to end Jim Crow in the prison dining room. The strike ended on December 22, 1943, after the warden promised to initiate an integration policy starting February 1, 1944. James Bennett, a moderate on race, believed white and black prisoners must be segregated to maintain order and prevent violence. On September 1, 1943, Bennett wrote to Lowell Naeve, a Danbury prisoner involved in the work strike for integration, charging him with resorting to "undemocratic methods of coercion to force a change." Bennett also denounced the tactics used by pacifists in prison. "Strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience," he argued, "certainly are not the democratic method of accomplishing the solution of racial problems. They merely engender discord and race riots."[3]


  1. ^ a b c Mcshane, M. (1 February 1996). Encyclopedia of American Prisons. Taylor & Francis. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-0-8153-1350-2. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b "James V. Bennett". U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  3. ^ Scott H. Bennett, "Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963," (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003). Quote from James V. Bennett to Loewell Naeve, 1 Sept. 1943. See also James V. Bennett, "Radical Problems in Federal Prisons," 6 Dec. 1943, FOR Papers, A/18