American Corrections…A History
In colonial America (the period from the first European settlements through the Revolutionary War), there were no state or federal prisons. Towns operated jails, but these local institutions held mainly debtors and people awaiting trial or execution. The various colonies had different laws for dealing with felons (serious offenders), but generally speaking, their criminal laws imposed physical punishments. Colonial punishments included flogging, branding, mutilation (as in the removal of an ear or nose), hangings, public humiliation, and banishments to wilderness areas, but they seldom involved confinement in penal institutions. In short, in the colonial period punishments emphasized the infliction of pain, not the deprivation of liberty.
After the Revolutionary War, citizens of the new country began to rethink issues of crime and punishment. Proud of having achieved liberty from England and stressing the importance of self-government, the leaders of the new United States began to think of deprivation of liberty as a better type of punishment than the old-fashioned physical punishments of the English and Continental traditions. Moreover, they decided that local communities should cont
At first there were actually two competing types of penitentiaries, one associated with Pennsylvania, the other with New York State. The Declaration of Principles begins by asserting that the fundamental purpose of punishment is to reform the criminal. In sum, the Declaration of Principles set forth a new philosophy of prisoner rehabilitation and a practical plan for achieving it. inue to be responsible for the punishment and correction of misdemeanants (minor offenders), but states should mete out the consequences for felons. A good-time law that permitted one day of sentence reduction for every five days of good behavior, for instance, could lead to the release of a prisoner with a five-year sentence in four years. Next the Declaration called for a "mark" system of rewards that would give convicts incentives to reform. Through reflecting on their sins, they might repent and become honest men and women. The innovative thinking reflected in the 1790 addition to the Walnut Street Jail quickly spread to other states, which began around 1800 to build separate prisons for the punishment of felons. With well over 1 million men and women behind bars in state and federal prisons, we incarcerate a greater number of prisoners than other country, aside from Russia. In the late 1860s two reformers, Enoch Wines and Theodore Dwight, inspected all the penal institutions in the United States and Canada on behalf of a private group, the Prison Association of New York. ) As states decided to build penitentiaries, nearly all of them adopted the Auburn system. Reading between the lines of Wines and Dwight's Report, we can see that the goal of incarceration was changing. Quakers therefore oppose capital punishment and believe that no one is beyond redemption. Those who never changed for the better, the Cincinnati delegates maintained, should stay in prison until death. Each cell had a workbench where the prisoner could make simple products such as shoes; and many of the cells had their own tiny yards, walled open areas outside the cells where convicts could get exercise and fresh air.