19th Century Prison Reform


Prison reform in the 19th century was spurred by horrible overcrowding and abuse in most prisons of the time. Unfortunately, the reform movement was mostly unsuccessful, simply because the amount of convictions was always far above what was predicted and with overcrowding made the rest of the problems somewhat inevitable.

Purpose of Prisons
Inside the Auburn Prison
Inside the Auburn Prison

I
n the early 19th century, the idea of prisons as places of reform became popular. Many people tried to use prisons to civilize the western frontier, and move from retribution to more "civilized" incarceration. Ideally, these new prisons would help inmates morally, so that society could eventually benefit from them. Americans wanted to fix inmates' character instead of simply punishing them. The silent hard labor in many new prisons was meant to instill a sense of self-discipline and cognizance.

Reformers, politicians, and judges started using jails to get rid of troublemakers and for cheap labor. This had the added benefit of helping the powerful men in charge to control the weak and poor.

Walnut Street (1790)
http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/soc/prison.html
http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/soc/prison.html

Walnut Street Prison was the basis of a new, radically different generation of prisons;
inmates were
separated both by crime and gender. It was also the first to give criminals education, training, and work in industry. The administration saw fit to preach at the inmates on many occasions. This prison also pioneered the use of solitary confinement as a type of punishment.



Cherry Hill (1829)
Pennsylvanians were convinced that solitary confinement could work on a larger scale than that at Walnut Street, and they needed a larger structure made specifically for isolation. Thus, Cherry Hill was opened in 1829 (although only finished in 1836), with Samuel Wood as warden of the new prison. The building was specially designed to completely isolate inmates, because it was thought that this was the only way to stop corruption similar to that at Walnut Street - instead of 16 isolation cells for only the worst offenders, all inmates would be totally separated, fed in their cells, and given work or vocational training. This system became known as both the Pennsylvania System and the Separate System. Each cell held one prisoner, and could be used as a workplace with attached exercise yard. The prison also had the best technology of the times - central heating, shower baths, and a flush toilet in every cell - long before other public buildings, and even the White House. The strange architecture of Cherry Hill, a central hub with radiating cellblocks, became common in the rest of the world, although it remained unusual in America. Instead, American prisons generally followed the Auburn (or Silent) System, with individual sleeping cells and silent communal work during the day. However, by the early 20th century, neither type was used.

Auburn (1821)
http://www.rarepostcard.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=138
http://www.rarepostcard.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=138

The Auburn jail completely isolated criminals from corruption, and gave them lessons on Christian morals and order through discipline. The inmates were forced to work for 10 hours a day, six days a week, talking as little as possible. Prisoners only returned to cells only at night, when they were expected to be completely silent, so they could reflect on what they had done. Congregate or Silent System prisons, modeled on Auburn Prison, used hard labor to rehabilitate convicts, and make them hard-working and disciplined.






Eastern State Penitentiexternal image Eastern_State_Penitentiary_21_by_Dracoart_Stock.jpgary (1829)

The Eastern State Penitentiary separated the prisoners by type, and instead of punishing they tried educating. The inmates went to "school" at the prison, with teachers coming in to teach different subjects. These subjects included: geography, natural sciences, geometry, bookkeeping, physiology, ethics, and psychology. As well as an education, the prison offered
parole, intermediate sentences, and rewards for good behavior.



Mt. Pleasant (1835) There were no all-female prisons until 1835, when Mount Pleasant Female Prison opened. It functioned similarly to the large disciplinary male prisons, using labor as the means of rehabilitation.


New York House of Refuge (1825)
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/
At first, families were responsible for disciplining women and children, with the exception of a few teens and preteens put in prisons forserious offenses. Then the New York House of Refuge opened in 1825, as the first juvenile "reform school". By the 1870's, there were 50+ "reform schools" everywhere except the South and the Great Plains. Their goals were to fix wayward (and often lower-class) children through strict discipline and labor. Unquestioning obedience, corporal punishment, and long isolation were common as tools for the "reform" of childrens' character.



Problems with Prisons


Prison Conditions
http://www.ushistory.org/us/26d.asp
http://www.ushistory.org/us/26d.asp

In many jails, such as the East Cambridge Jail, women were living in unsanitary and unheated cells. After doing more research Dix realized more establishments had their inmates suffering as well. Western and Southern prisons were worse than those anywhere else in America. Most had disease, overcrowding, mismanagement, and no running water. Despite racism, people of all races were generally incarcerated in proportionate amounts, for equal amounts of time (because of the high costs). Southern inmates were overworked, due to chain-gang labor in building and road systems. After the Jim Crow laws, African-Americans made up 75+% of southern prisons, so they were usually the ones working.



The Convict Leasing System
http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/tdgh-dec/dec31.htm
http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/tdgh-dec/dec31.htm

The convict leasing system allowed privately owned businesses to "lease" prisoners (usually in Southern states). They could pay the state for permission to take prisoners and force them to work for their business or plantation. This differed from the contract labor system because the prisoners worked inside the prison and the products they produced were then shipped out to businesses. Many times the convicts were innocent black men incarcerated on flimsy charges, who were put into conditions worse than those during slavery. The leasing system was one of the main problems that reformers wanted to get rid of. Congress worked against it in 1887, but it lost popularity with the state legislatures who only wanted federal prisoners in their prisons if they could earn a profit. This made it necessary for Congress to establish separate federal prisons.



Co-Ed Prison Problems
http://www.csusb.edu/coe/programs/correctional_ed/images.htm
http://www.csusb.edu/coe/programs/correctional_ed/images.htm

In general, there was no system of separation in prisons differentiating between young and old, sane and insane, or men and women. Until the 1890's, women were usually placed in male institutions, in separate quarters. Violence, rape, and unwanted pregnancy abounded, and there were no nurseries for the infants that resulted. Often white women were let off with much easier sentences than women of color.





Reforming the Prisons

Enoch Wines and Theodore Dwight
Enoch Wines and Theodore Dwight (both from NY) wrote the critical assessment Report on the Prisons and Reformatories of the United States and Canada in 1867, which said that the Auburn system of silence, floggings, and solitary confinement was ineffective. They argued that jails should loosen their rules and use education and behavioral incentives. According to them, prisons were ineffective if they were as dehumanizing as Auburn.

Zebulon Brockway
Zebulon Brockway
Zebulon Brockway

Brockway was the first person to introduce the idea of separating prisoners and treating them as individual people. Instead of seeing prison as a way to punish criminals, Brockway sought to make them better people. Brockway also founded the concepts of parole and intermediate sentences, as well as making sentences a time for learning. He brought in various teachers for the inmates to learn about different vocations. Collectively, these ideas are called Zebulon Brockway's "New Penology".

A group of people, called the Progressives, put Brockway's ideas into actions. They started the creation of juvenile courts and prisons and prisons only for women. The first juvenile prison was established in Illinois in 1904- the Illinois State School at St. Charles. The first women's only prison was established in Indianapolis in 1874. In 1877 Hannah B. Chickering and Ellen C. Johnson built another women's prison in Sherborn, MA.

http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/
Zebulon Brockway (NY) founded and ran the Elmira Reformatory using the advice given by Wines and Dwight's report. He convinced many educators to help him reform convicts, making Elmira a model for other jails. He also made popular the "good time" policy of cutting off time from a prisoner's sentence for good behavior, so cooperative inmates might serve only 11 months out of a year.






Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix fought for the improvement of Massachusetts/New England prisons during the Jackson era. She discovered the necessity of prison reform when she went to the East Cambridge Jail with her Sunday school. The inmates were living under inhumane conditions, they lived in unsanitary and unheated cells. Dorothea Dix requested government help in her attempts to reform prisons and help the mentally ill. In 1835 Dix asked for the government to lend 12 millions acres of land to establish institutions to help the insane and vision, hearing, and speech impaired. This was vetoed by the president, Franklin Pierce. She later raised money herself to establish over 50 hospitals, one of them was the Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey.






















Results of the Movement

Despite modest advances in some areas, official reports and firsthand accounts from prisoners indicate that penitentiaries at the close of the century remained overcrowded. Idleness and administrative graft was normal, and brutality was the rule rather than the exception. Many states participated in lease arrangements with private contractors, who were paid a monthly flat rate based on inmate numbers. The lessees ran prisons in the cheapest way possible and leased inmate labor to supplement their administrative budgets and incomes. Abuse of the lease system was widespread, but vestiges of it remained in many regions well into the twentieth century. The continued failure of 19th century prisons and of their reform is evidenced by the 20th century and current reform movements.

http://libcom.org/library/rooted-slavery-prison-labor-exploitation
http://libcom.org/library/rooted-slavery-prison-labor-exploitation
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