Penitentiary Ideal and Models of the American Prison
A penitentiary is defined as a public institution where offenders of the law are to be confined for detention or punishment. Prisons prior to the 1800s were filthy, unsanitary, and often struck with disease. Physical punishments included beatings, whippings, and death by hanging. Prison inmates were often malnutritioned and underfed. Early advocates of the penitentiary considered these punishments and conditions to be inhumane and set out for a change. These Pennsylvania Quakers combined social reforms with religious principles, which in turn lead to the revision of the penitentiary ideal. The growth of the penitentiary during the 1800s primarily consisted of two models: the separate system and the congregate system. Two main examples of these are Eastern State and Auburn. The penitentiary ideal became that of both a secular and spiritual purpose. Its idea to be different from the prisons that already existed included plans to be clean and healthy, to avoid contamination of both the body and spirit, and above all to practice corrective discipline. All while replacing the physical punishment found in existing prisons with a more humane punishment by using isolation, strictly enforced rules, and steadily productive labor. Its overall goal was reformation of the criminal mind. In the years to follow, two models following this new ideal were formed. The first being the separate system and the second was the congregate system. The separate system, first shown in the Eastern State Penitentiary, featured a radial design that provided complete solitude. The cells were spacious, compared to its competition, and each cell had its own exercise yard. Inmates never left their cells and never encountered other inmates. The separate system followed the guidelines of Quaker reformative imprisonment ideal providing complete isolation of the inmates, fair treatment, and the opportunity for work, reflection, and...
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