Explain how Robert Elliott Burns contributed to the reform of corrections in Georgia.

Robert Elliott Burns wrote the book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, which exposed the harsh conditions of the chain-gang system and eventually led to its elimination during the administration of Governor Ellis Arnall.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Robert Elliott Burns would have seemed like one of the least likely people to ever contribute to the reform of Georgia's corrections system, yet that's exactly what he did. Burns fought in World War I, but by 1922, he found himself drifting through Georgia with little to nothing to his...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Robert Elliott Burns would have seemed like one of the least likely people to ever contribute to the reform of Georgia's corrections system, yet that's exactly what he did. Burns fought in World War I, but by 1922, he found himself drifting through Georgia with little to nothing to his name. He ended up participating in a grocery store robbery (with the profit of a mere $5.81), and he got caught. Since Georgia had no state prisons at the time, Burns was sentenced to ten years on a chain gang, performing hard labor while lacking enough food and shelter and facing the constant threat of beatings.

Burns actually escaped from the chain gang and ended up in Chicago, where he published articles about his experiences and exposed the conditions of prisoners on a chain gang. He was recaptured a few years later and sent back to the chain gang but escaped once again. This time, he wrote a book about the abuses and horrors of the chain-gang system called I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! The book became major hit, and in 1932, Warner Brothers made a movie based on it.

Burns's sentence was finally commuted to "time served," but not before he had opened the eyes of the American people to the harshness of the chain-gang system, which left men exhausted and broken. The punishment, according to Burns's descriptions, was often much greater than the crime committed. His book actually led to the reform of the system under Governor Ellis Arnall and even the elimination of chain gangs altogether. Despite Burns's rough start and continuing struggles, he made a real contribution to Georgia prison reform.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on