external image prison.jpgEarly Prison Reform (1840)


Focus Questions:


1. What historical forces led to the rise of this movement?
2) What methods/tactics were used to lead the movement?
3. What major figures were involved in the movement?
4. Was the movement successful in achieving its goals?


Overview/Thesis

Prison reform has been steadily occurring through out the history of the United States since the first prison, The Walnut Street Jail was established in 1790. The heart of prison reform is Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. Over the years, many common practices and methods of the prisons were deemed inhumane, impractical, and against human rights. Prisons were reformed with the help of appalled and determined individuals who complained to the government. As the idea behind imprisonment shifted from punishment and storage for prisoners, to labor, to rehabilitation, reform came quickly and is a continuing battle that is still being fought today.



What Historical Forces Led to this Movement?

This time period (1840-), marked major changes in the United States. Population was increasing rapidly, as was the area of the United States. After aquring both Texas and California, the U.S. was again faced with the issue of slavery. Before the civil war, the antebellum period after the war of 1812 featured a time of people examining their rights (this accompanied the 'Era of Good Feeling' . Also during this time period, women were beginning to assert their rights. This era of exploring human rights opened up eyes to the treatment of prisoners people. Americans wanted to fix all the problems and evils in mankind. Becasue of this they began to look around society to make sure they were indeed getting all they were promised in the consititution. People began noticing how prisoners were being punished and it was decided that ways such as these (whipping, beating) were better suited for animals than humans and contradicted basic human rights. Some other people, for example, Benjamin Rush, believed th at the displaying of such violence would spread through the community and have a bad influence.
At the same time, cheap convict labor would have been helpful in constructing all the new federal roads, canals and railways being created to speed up westward expansion into newly acquired land.



Prison Background

Solitary Confinement
Solitary Confinement
Prisons were first created to take the place of other forms of punishment. These included maiming, whipping, branding, public humiliation in the stocks, and capital punishment. However, by the late eighteenth century, these methods were considered to be inhumane and against basic human rights. Jails were constructed because they more respectful of human dignity than public humiliation and physical abuse. As the purpose behind jails has been re-thought over the years, jails became schools that could educate criminals rather than only punish them.
There were two main types of penitentiary systems during the mid-eighteen hundreds.

The Auburn System:
Established in 1821, the Auburn system employed a method of keeping the prisoners isolated in order to shield them from the corruption of their counterparts. The building included many individual block cells which created an ideal environnment for their method. The prison sought to rehabilitate the prisoners an reteach morals, thus they made the prisoners partake in harsh labor and used
Walnut Street Jail
Walnut Street Jail
strict discipline. In some prisons, inmates worked as contract convict laborers ten hours per day, six days per week.



The Pennsylvania System:
This system was used by the very first jail, the Walnut Street Jail, in 1 790. This system utilized complete solitary confinement, and they separated prisoners according to the crime that was committed. Prisoners were not allowed to receive any mail, newspaper, or visitors.






Seperation in Prison Reform

Overcrowded Prison
Overcrowded Prison
Between the years 1825 and 1835, there was a substantial increase in the numbers of women prisoners. Soon there was problematic overcrowding in many jails. Especially ones that enforced solitary confinement because there were simple not enough cells. On top of that, problems of sexual abuse arose when female and male prisoners were put together. In response to this issue New York, Maryland, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia created seperate living quarters for women inside the jails. The first woman's prison, Female Prisonn and Reformatory Institution, was built in Indianapolis in 1874.


Besides seperation of women prisoners, the mentally ill were also seperated from jails and sent to mental hospitals were their needs could be taken proper care of. People who were vision, hearing, or speech impaired were also seperated. In 1821 at the Auburn jail, eighty men, some of which suffered from mental illnesses,commited suicide or had mentally breakdowns from being locked in solitary confinement. This served as an impetus for the heads of the National Prison Society to re-evaluate the way prisons were run. Because of this incident, the prisons decided to stop putting prisoners in solitary confinement and resort to a more strict disciplinary system.
Prison Cartoons


New Penology

The prison reform was called the "New Penology." Zebulon Brockway, known as 'father of the prison reform', came up with this new theory behind running prisons in the 1870s. This idea came about in two separate waves. At first, the majority of prisoners worked in contract labor groups, commonly called jail gangs. These were groups of criminals who were 'sold' for a certain amout of time to large companies. This way the prisoners were able to pay their stay in jail. However, many disagreed with convict contract labor becauseof the poor living conditions an
Convict Contract Labor Gang working on a railroad
Convict Contract Labor Gang working on a railroad
d
harsh treatment prisoners received. Their was also a racial factor in prison leasing. In the aftermath of the civil war, many southern states felt threatened by the growing population of free black slaves. They also felt economic pressure as they were unable to afford their state penitentiaries. They employed prison labor as a form of control and revenue. One famous contract labor group, the 'chain gang', was created in Virginia in order to build canals and railroads. However, white men who were losing jobs to the new source of cheap labor and reformers protested what they believed to be an unethical abuse of human rights. Because of this, in the 1840s, there was a strong push to move away from contract labor and emphasize solitary confinement. About thirty years later, there was a second reform wave. Brockway's proposed system called for the new techniques of probation, parole, and the indeterminate sentence. Brockway also suggested for specialized institutions to care for children under eighteen, women, and mentally impaired individuals.


Change was also necessary for the prison system to continue functioning. As mentioned early, overcrowding was quickly becoming an issue. The Walnut Street Jail only had sixteen cells that were used for especially dangerous prisoners. There were also a few larger rooms where prisoners that committed less
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary
er crimes were housed, but even still, there were too many people. Because of this, the Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1836. It contained more modern technology such as central heating, flush toilets in each cell and showers. These led to the improvement of prison conditions.Cells also had individual exercise yards and small workplaces where prisoners could learn vocational skills.

Visitors were common in the newer prisons. Because visitors were allowed, the Prison Society made sure prisoners had enough food, clean clothing, and heat in the winter.




Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix

Leaders of the Prison Reform

Dorothea Dix- Dix dedicated her life to improving the living conditions of the mentally ill. She brought attention to her cause by describing the living conditions of prisoners.The sick and insane were "confined in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, and pens! Chained, beaten with rods, lashed into obedience!" In 1841 she discovered the horrible living conditions of the East Cambridge Jail. Women lived in cold and dirty cells. In an attempt to resolve this problem she went to a local court and with the aid of Samuel Gridley, she won her case and got heated and clean cells for the women. After this, Dix was worried of the conditions in other jails and so she traveled around the state and recorded the conditions of many jails. Then, in 1843 she went to the Massachusetts legislature and recieved funds for the expansion of the Worcester State Lunatic Hospital. She also established five hospitals for the insane in Africa. In Europe she pleaded for human rights to the Queen Victoria and the Pope. In 1845 she wrote a book about the treatment of prisoners. She supported the change in the penal system from contract labor to education.


Dr.
Dr. John Galt
Dr. John Galt
Joh
n Galt
- Dr. John Galt began the first psychiatric hospital in America in 1841, Dr. John Galt Easter Lunatic Asylum, in Williamsburg Virginia. Dr. Galt believed that the mentally ill should be separate from the other prionsers and receive speical treatment. He believed that, like everyone else, these people still had dignity that needed to be respected. He had many revolutionary ideas about how to treat the insane. These ideas included the use of drugs, introductions of 'talk therapy', and the and outpatient option instead of lifelong stays. Like Dorothea Dix, he wanted mentally ill patients to have proper treatment that did not infringe on their human rights.


Louis Dwight- Unlike Dr. Galt and Dorothea Dix, Louis Dwight was more concerned with the treatment of children in jails. He wanted to seperate children into juvenile detention centers. He was also concerned with the purpose of prisons and one of the first national figures in pri
FrancisLieber
FrancisLieber
son reform. He was the founder of the
Samuel Gridley Howe
Samuel Gridley Howe
Boston Prison Discipline Society. He helped the prisons to establish strict disciplinary systems.


Samuel Gridley Howe
and Francis Lieber- Howe shared similar goals with Dorothea Dix. He wished prison libraries, basic literacy, reduction of whipping and beating, communication of sentences, and separation of women, children and the mentally ill.
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Was Prison Reform Succesful?

Throughout the 18th
Education program withinpresent day prison
Education program withinpresent day prison
and 19th century, many individuals were successful in establishing new laws; bettering the conditions of the prisons, and furthering progress in the humanity of prisons. While these individuals may have focused on specific issues that they believed important, every successful reform contributed to the emergance of another one. The various reforms that occurred allowed for new facilities to be built, the more humane treatment of prisoners, and the necessary separation of female, male and adolescent inmates. Because of the vicissitude of beliefs regarding the functions and state of prisons, reform will never cease.
Nowadays, prisons do not only consist of cells, many prisons vocational and educational programs to help rehabilitate prisoners for life outside of jail. The idea of re-education has carried through until today. However, solitary confinement is still a controversial issue within prisons today- obviously the early stages prison reform were not completely successful in eliminating what some believe to be unethical torture. We now see the original belief of the penal system, the belief that prisons should help reform the criminal, reinstated.




Bibliography 1