The Corrigible and the Incorrigible

Science, Medicine, and the Convict in Twentieth-Century Germany
Greg Eghigian
Explores how the social sciences and clinical medicine contributed to the understanding and treatment of offenders in three disparate political regimes


The Corrigible and the Incorrigible explores the surprising history of efforts aimed at rehabilitating convicts in 20th-century Germany, efforts founded not out of an unbridled optimism about the capacity of people to change, but arising from a chronic anxiety about the potential threats posed by others. Since the 1970s, criminal justice systems on both sides of the Atlantic have increasingly emphasized security, surveillance, and atonement, an approach that contrasts with earlier efforts aimed at scientifically understanding, therapeutically correcting, and socially reintegrating convicts. And while a distinction is often drawn between American and European ways of punishment, the contrast reinforces the longstanding impression that modern punishment has played out as a choice between punitive retribution and correctional rehabilitation. Focusing on developments in Nazi, East, and West Germany, The Corrigible and the Incorrigible shows that rehabilitation was considered an extension of, rather than a counterweight to, the hardline emphasis on punishment and security by providing the means to divide those incarcerated into those capable of reform and the irredeemable.

“A magnificent history of the 'correctional imagination'—the ideas and practices associated with the reform and rehabilitation of criminals in modern Germany . . . highly original and elegantly written, it will undoubtedly become the standard work on the subject for many years to come, revising conventional wisdom and advancing provocative new interpretations. The study’s longue durée coverage of Nazi Germany, East Germany and West Germany is rare and provides interesting points of comparisons that will be of interest to historians of all three regimes.”
—Richard Wetzell, German Historical Institute

Photo: Prisoners from the penal camp in Rüdersdorf near Berlin at work in a quarry in 1949. At the time, the facility incarcerated former active Nazi party members.  Photo by Otto Donath, Permission of the German Federal Archive.

Greg Eghigian is Associate Professor of Modern History, Penn State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "[The Corrigible and the Incorrigible] is a compelling, extremely elegantly written and presented book."
  • "...a sophisticated and well-written book...This study will indees serve as a standard reference, while many details concerning the history of penal correction in Germany will hopefully be discussed by the community of historians."
    --Isis Journal
  • "An important book about the history of the modern prison system with a particular focus on the treatment of sex offenders."
    --Journal of the History of Sexuality
  • "This well-written and vivid book covers the history of German penal systems in a longue durée perspective, something that has never been done before."
    --German Historical Institute of London Bulletin
  • Winner: 2017 DAAD/German Studies Association Book Prize. 

    "Impeccably researched, fluidly written, beautifully crafted, and measured in tone... It is an exemplary piece of scholarship that makes an original contribution to German historiography and speaks beyond the German context to interrogate the ways that criminality and the human capacity for improvement have been – and continue to be – understood and addressed in the broader North Atlantic world of the 20th and 21st centuries."
    --DAAD Prize committee

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News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Greg Eghigian interviewed for New Books in German Studies (Link) | 9/9/2016

Product Details

  • 302 pages.
  • 8 Tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12137-3

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  • Germany, prisons, prisoners, crime, punishment, rehabilitation, detention, criminology, forensic psychiatry, law