Tag: History of American prisons


History of American prisons


  Today, most people view prisons as tools of punishment. In early times, people did not view prisons as instruments of punishments. For example, the Bridewells prison in England did not consider punishment as the main purpose of prisons. The Bridewells prison was used to holds debtors, and other people waiting trial in the prison, and banishment from the society. The American correctional systems differed from their mother land as the administrators used corporal punishments to punish criminals. But, the English counterparts did not use corporal punishments (Wadsworth, 2005). Death penalty was not common in the English prisons. In 1962, wiliam Penn adopted the Greek law. This criminal code did not allow prisons to use torture, and mutilations to punish criminals. The law encouraged criminals to pay restitution for the goods to the victim of crime.

If the criminal was unable to pay the restitution, he was taken to the prison. The Greek law encouraged death penalty to be used, but only on cases of premeditated murder. The first penitentiary to be established was Wall Street prison. This prison encouraged use of harsh punishments like those used in other colonies. In 1776, Pennsylvania established laws ordering prisons to reform offenders by disciplining them, and also by treating. But, not punish offenders by beating and executing them. Several states adopted the Pennsylvania example like New York, and Massachusetts (Wadsworth, 2005).In 1970, pennyslavia opened another penitentiary in Philadelphia. The penitentiary was operated under the assumption that silence, and labors were the best ways to rehabilitate prisoners. This is because the criminals would meditate about their crime by remaining silence.Then after realizing the mistake the criminal would repent. In addition, labor would help reduce idleness among criminals as idleness was the main cause of criminal activities. Then, prisoners were isolated from one another in solitary rooms, and given menial work.Several states constructed penitentiary to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

The failure of Walnut Street enabled other states to construct prisons (Wadsworth, 2005). For example, the Pennsylvania system constructed two prisons after the fall of Walnut prisons. That is western penitentiary and eastern penitentiary. The Pennsylvania system adopted the principle of silence, and constructed back to back cells. The cells were aimed at transforming criminals into honest citizens. The New York prisons were also constructed after the fall of Walnut prisons. The prisons focused on obedience, but not transforming criminals into honest citizens. As a result of overcrowding in New York prisons other prisons were constructed such as Auburn prisons. In 1870, reformers suggested other measures to reduce the rate of crime. This is because they thought that isolation, silence and fixed sentences could not help curb crime. They introduced other rules like early release. The Elmira model believed that criminal behaviors were caused by factors like economic, social and biological factors. This forced prisons to look for ways of treating criminals rather than punishing them (Gaines &Miller, 2008). Then the medical model was development to implement the suggestion.

 Impact of penitentiary rivalry

            The American prison system is influenced by the Pennsylvanian system and the auburn system. Rules used in the two systems are currently used in the American system like giving prisoners manual work. The Penitentiary rivalry has had several impacts on the American prisons. First, the rivalry has helped improve living conditions for prisoners in the prison. Prisoners are not put in crowded rooms as these increases the rate of crimes in the country and deaths in prisons. It has led to development of medical programs for prisoners in the American prison. The penitentiary rival has also led to isolation of prisoners according to age, education and level of crime committed. Then the prisoners are placed in different levels of prisons. That is maximum, minimum, and low. Maximum prisons house prisoners who have committed crimes several times and murders. Minimum prisons house prisoners who are half way with their punishment and have shown good behavior. In addition, Peniterary rival has led to development of rehabilitation centers that help criminals develop skills, and correct their behavior. The rivalry has influenced the American thinking on the purpose of the prisons. Most people think prisons are made to punish people using different types of punishment like capital punishments. Other people think that prisons are required to transform criminals into better citizens by guiding them (Gaines &Miller, 2008).

 Comparing public and private prisons

There are several differences between private prisons and public prisons. First, it is easy to manage private prisons than public prisons. This is because public prisons rely on government funds to manage prisons, and the funds are not enough. Private companies have enough funds to manage prisons. They have other sources of funds (Gaines &Miller, 2008).Private and public prisoners differ in terms of conditions and services provided to prisoners. In public prisons, it is difficulty to provide services and better conditions to prisoners as they have no enough funds. But, in private prisons it is easy to provide the right services to prisoners as they have enough funds (Gaines &Miller, 2008).Privatizing public prisons has become a debatable issue because the society analyzes the issues associated with private prisons. People opposing privatization of public prisons argue that private prison will not provide security to prisoners. This is because the private prisons want to save finances and this will lead to death of prisoners. Private prisons have been associated with deaths. Another argument is that, the private prisons have no right to punish criminals. They argue that the government is the only party that has the right to punish criminals. The prisons will continue to mistreat prisoners (Gaines &Miller, 2008).


Gaines, L.,&Miller, R. (2008).Criminal Justice in Action: The Core.Edition5.Cengage Learning

Wadsworth, T. (2005).Lecture Notes for Gaines/Miller’s Criminal Justice in Action: the Core, 3rd.Edition3PublisherThomson Wadsworth

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