James V. Bennett visiting with a prisoner in his cell


James V. Bennett speaking to a prisoner in a prison cell

James V. Bennett played a vital role in the creation and initial operation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Bennett began his federal government career in 1919 when he was named an Investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Efficiency. Bennett penned “The Federal Penal and Correction Problem” in 1928, which was vital as a catalyst for the creation of the Bureau of Prisons. As Director, Bennett, was a very active reformer of correctional policies and was an advocate for the rights of prison inmates. He was instrumental in opening special institutions for juveniles, rehabilitation centers and halfway houses.These efforts are reflected in his mantra that “We must not rob a man of all hope.” The first “open prison’ was instituted by Bennett in 1938 in Seagonville, Texas. This was a no walls, no bars and a gun free facility. He became president of the National Parole Conference in 1939 and later served as President of the Washington Council of Social Agencies. The Celler-Hennings Act was enacted in 1958 as a result of Bennett’s advocacy for more equity in the process of federal sentencing. The Act empowered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to make sentencing recommendations to the judiciary as well as recommendations relating to sentencing reform.

View photographs from the James V. Bennett Collection, 1905-1971: here

View Finding Aid for the James V. Bennett Collection, 1905-1971 : here


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