History of Corrections:
From Then to Now
Kris L. Sullivan
Colorado Technical University Online
A Paper Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements of
January 14, 2008
The U.S. corrections system, a subdivision of the criminal justice system, continues to undergo change. From its beginnings as laws written in stone, the corrections system has sought to punish offenders. The origin of the corrections system dates back several thousand years and has witnessed various perspectives and goals. The best method of administering punishment to these prisoners has remained an issue of dispute for many years. Events through history, such as the first penitentiary and the Declaration of Principles, have continued to reshape the corrections division. Debate continues regarding goals such as retribution and incrimination. Additionally, the rise of privately owned prisons has added to the systems structure. Prisoners’ rights mold the individual levels and allow for more freedom within the minimum security as opposed to the maximum security. As technology advances and times change, U.S. corrections policy will continue to change with the current trends of the time.
Good afternoon and welcome to today’s conference on correctional policy. Many are aware, that as part of a grander scheme, corrections has become an imperative part of the criminal justice system. In a general definition, the corrections department fulfills the purpose of providing punishment to convicted criminals. The corrections subdivision breaks down in to several components including juvenile detention, probation and parole, adult prison, probation and parole, as well as adult jails and county workhouses. Although the general purpose remains the same, perspectives regarding how to punish criminals changes. The prevalent perspectives that guide the punishment phase of the criminal justice system include reform, humane or civilized reform and repression. Additionally, social perspectives also guide corrections and include functionalist, conflict, and interactionist perspectives (Bartollas, 2002, p. 13). Before we begin today’s discussion and conference on correctional policy we must grasp and understand current policies and what led us to where we stand today. Origins of corrections, key events in history that guided U.S. corrections, goals over the years, and the structure including the different levels and types of institutions all influenced current policy as well as the current trends in the corrections system.
The origins of corrections date back as far as the Code of Hammurabi. King Hammurabi enacted a code of laws during his reign from 1795-1750 BC which became one of the first known written sets of laws in history (CTU Online, 2008, CJUS201). Although many laws then did not include imprisonment in the same form we know today, some did ‘imprison’ violators by enclosing or binding them in some torturous fashion. Ancient Greeks utilized prisons with the Twelve Tables, written around 451 BC and even imprisoned Socrates for a short time. Medieval prisons saw a rise in the use of criminals for labor while centuries later, bridewells, European prisons, sought to reform prisoners by teaching technical skills. Jails originally began during the medieval times in England (Territo, Halsted, & Bromley, 2004, p. 446). Originally intended to temporarily house suspects, jails eventually came to serve as both detainment and punishment. The concept of prisons and jails followed settlers as they made their way from England to North America. Although America began with concepts brought from England, colonists quickly began forming their own unique corrections system. Enlightenment thinkers and reformists continued to shape corrections towards the system prevalent today.