lax |laks| adjective
1 not sufficiently strict or severe : lax security arrangements at the airport | he’d been a bit lax about discipline in school lately.
2 careless : why do software developers do little more than parrot their equally lax competitors?

It is perhaps easy to forget there once was an era when the prison in society was less useful. By 1905 when this picture was taken, there were only two prisons in California (San Quentin and Folsom) and it would remain that way for another 30 years. Much of the detention and incarceration was done through an smattering of local jails and jail houses for work crews.

Alum Rock Jail. Alice Iola Hare, ca. 1905. On the back of the photograph is written, "Much of the original road into Alum Rock Park was built by County Jail prisoners who were housed - and guarded - in these shacks. The roofed structures and the open one (stockade?) behind them stood for many years after the road building job was completed."

Alum Rock Jail. Alice Iola Hare, ca. 1905. On the back of the photograph is written, "Much of the original road into Alum Rock Park was built by County Jail prisoners who were housed - and guarded - in these shacks. The roofed structures and the open one (stockade?) behind them stood for many years after the road building job was completed."

This image of Alum Rock Jail, Santa Clara County was taken originally by Alice Iola Hare, was then part of the Arbuckle Collection and eventually went digital as part of Silicon Valley History online.

The description is right; this is a shack more than jail. The fabric of the structure did not discipline the inmates at Alum Rock, it was the guard’s rifles and the open countryside that asserted control. The physical make-up of this carceral structure is a world away from the SuperMax US society now relies upon. And for that reason, and for the indulgence of punnery, I want to refer to this example of historical jails as a “SuperLax” Prison.

What would people at the beginning of the 20th century have made of 16ft razor wire, heat sensing detection equipment, opticons and magnetic locks? I suppose the one piece of equipment they may have shared with their contemporary guards would be dogs, but they probably didn’t call them “K9 units” back then. I doubt they’d developed rubber bullets in 1905 either…