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Bennett, James V. (James Van Benschoten) (1894-1978) | SHSU Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Bennett, James V. (James Van Benschoten) (1894-1978)


Historical Note:

James Van Benschoten Bennett was born on August 28, 1894 in Silver Creek, New York. He served as an aviation cadet in World War I. Bennett graduated from Brown University in 1918 and later received a law degree from George Washington University. In 1919 his federal government career was kick started because of his appointment as an Investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Efficiency. Bennett penned “The Federal Penal and Correction Problem” in 1928, which was vital in being a catalyst for the creation of the Bureau of Prisons.

The creation of the Federal Prison Industries Inc. in 1934 can be considered as one of his most significant achievements during this tenure. He worked as Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons up until 1937 when he was named Director following Sanford Bate’s retirement. As Director, Bennett, was a very active reformer of correctional policies and an advocate for the rights of prison inmates. He was instrumental in opening special institutions for juveniles, rehabilitation centers and halfway houses. These efforts were reflective of his mantra that “We must not rob a man of all hope.” The first “open prison’ was instituted by Bennett in 1938 in Seagoville, 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.

Much of Bennett’s work in the criminal justice system, and more specifically his work with inmates, focused on creating an environment that was best suitable for the rehabilitation of offenders. He was also an advocate for improved communication systems within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with the goal of creating a more cohesive and effective network. Another major contribution Bennett made during his tenure as Director was by continuing the advancement of the inmate classification system that was vital in focusing on the specific needs of prisoners and attempting to satisfy these. Bennett constructed his ideas into programs and worked diligently for them to be applied. He was able to convince both his colleagues and Congress to adapt his beliefs and created the alliances necessary for effective implementation.

Bennett served as the head of several other organizations. He was the President of the National Association for Better Broadcasting, the Joint Commission on Correctional Manpower and Training and the American Correctional Association. Bennett was honored with The President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President Eisenhower in 1959. He also received the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award and the Selective Service Medal.

Bennett retired as Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1964. However, his speaking engagements and his writings on prison related issues allowed him to remain very much a part of the criminal justice system. He wrote I Chose Prison in 1970 which continued his focus on the well-being and proper treatment of prisoners.

James V. Bennett died in Maryland on November 19, 1978, leaving his wife, Olympia, a son, Edmund and two daughters, Ann Humbert and Brenda Bell.






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