Alexis M. Johnson
November 9, 2009
“Address To The Prisoners in Cook County Jail” Synthesis
In 1902, Clarence Darrow delivered his famous speech “to the prisoners in Cook County Jail.”
Darrow, a famous American lawyer, perhaps best known for his participation in the Scopes Trial, offers his
perspective on crime and punishment.
In his speech, he proposes the idea that if everyone were given
equal opportunity, crime would cease to exist and, consequently, there would be no need for jails.
Throughout his speech, Darrow provides many reasons as to why he believes crime exists and
why the lack of equality is the primary cause. Reasons he gives include criminals and non-criminals are
morally equivalent, individuals are sent to jail because they are impoverished, and crime is a profession
that is driven by other people’s greed. While Darrow provides thorough support for his ideas, many of them
lack plausibility and are not argued logically.
To begin with, Darrow presents his first illogical argument when he says, “I do not believe there is
any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail.” This idea is illogical
because people are typically in jail because they have done something which is either immoral, illegal, or
both. His point further defies logic because he continues that these individuals “are in jail simply because
they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they
are in no way responsible.” This idea lacks plausibility because of people such as murderers, kidnappers
and rapists. Clearly, these three groups of criminals are immoral because they have chosen to kill
someone, take someone against their will, or take someone’s innocence and or, dignity. Furthermore, these
three groups have complete control and responsibility for their actions. Each has overpowered another
individual in some way, shape, or form. In addition, they are not simply “born to it,” as no one is destined to
be a criminal; it is that individual’s personal decision. Put simply, there is no excuse for immoral behaviors.