The Return of the Chain Gang? Xackery Irving’s American Chain Gangs

Some jails in the US have attempted to reinstate the chain gang. Do you think this is a viable option?

Here is a trailer for Xackery Irving’s American Chain Gangs. I recommend watching the film to see the complexity of the situation and the dangers we face as a society.

Jails in Alabama and Arizona resurrected the chain gang at the end of the 20th century. Although it is not exactly the same practice that was so widespread and cruel that it became taboo fifty years earlier, it still has unresolved issues and terrible connotations. Alabama has dropped their program because of lawsuits over human rights. Arizona continues it.

Years ago, to be on a chain gang meant that you stayed chained to your neighbors until your sentence was over or you died. If you needed to relieve yourself, if you were sick or sleeping, you remained chained. It was also associated with the last vestiges of slavery, as many chain gangs were comprised of African Americans, escaped slaves or free men that were often there on trumped up charges or out of self-defense.

Today the chains are put on when prisoners go on work detail, and they can be removed in certain situations. No one can say that the conditions are comparable, but what are the effects of the practice? What marks does it leave on prisoners, on guards, and on society?


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