Changes in Prisons

Topics: Prison, Penology, Eastern State Penitentiary Pages: 5 (1144 words) Published: August 18, 2014

Changes in Prison
The American Correction system has been in existence for over 130 years. It has been since the meeting of American Prison Congress on 1870 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Allen, Latessa & Ponder, 2013, p 30-31) The reformation was totally encompassing the inmate’s life in prison. The minds that met in 1870 were ahead of their times. With having put accountability and standards in the prison system created an improvement for the prisoner and the term he/she served. The beginnings were in Philadelphia at the Old Stone jails on Third and Market Streets. Its purpose was to hold debtors, and others awaiting trial. It has come a long way from the origins of the first jails of the American Revolutionary however faltering in different fashions. The jails were inadequate facilities. Inmates were lumped together male and female. A new jail was erected in Walnut Street. This new jail became the first state prison in Pennsylvania. The state prison had created separate cells for the various inmates. It also instilled different punishment in accordance with the crime. Walnut Street prison had implemented new workshops to educated prisoners with useful employment. (Johnston, Ph.D., 2012) Walnut Street prison set up was the ideal make up for the moment. The state prison was the foundation for many more prisons to be built in the same fashion. Because of the rapidly growing population, a new jail was begun in 1773 on Walnut Street, behind the State House (later, Independence Hall). The new prison had the traditional layout of large rooms for the inmates. Initially, conditions were little better than they had been at the old jail. Prisoners awaiting trial might barter their clothes for liquor or be forcibly stripped upon entering by other inmates seeking funds for the bar. The result was great suffering when the weather turned cold. One estimate stated that 20 gallons of spirits were brought into the prison daily by the jailer for sale to the inmates. It was also considered a common practice for certain women to arrange to get arrested to gain access to the male prisoners. After the peace of 1783, a group of prominent citizens led by Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and others organized a movement to reform the harsh penal code of 1718. The new law substituted public labor for the previous severe punishments. Members of the Society were shocked by what they learned about the new Walnut Street prison. The next year they presented to the state legislature an explanation of their investigations of the conditions. They recommended solitary confinement at hard labor as a remedy and reformative strategy. An act of 1790 brought about sweeping reforms in the prison and authorized a penitentiary house with 16 cells to be built in the yard of the jail to carry out solitary confinement with labor for "hardened atrocious offenders." Walnut Street Jail, by the same legislation, became the first state prison in Pennsylvania. Following 1790, the Walnut Street jail became a showplace, with separation of different sorts of prisoners and workshops providing useful trade instruction. The old abuses and idleness seemed eliminated, but with Walnut Street now a state prison and the population of Philadelphia increasing rapidly, it, like its previous jail, became unbearably crowded. The large rooms, 18 feet square, which still housed most of the prisoners, by 1795, had between 30 and 40 occupants each. The Prison Society continued to urge the creation of large penitentiaries for the more efficient handling of prisoners. The reformers also remained convinced that in spite of the small-scale isolation cellblock at Walnut Street, that site would never prove the value of the system of separate incarceration which came to be called the Pennsylvania System. Only an entire larger structure, built specifically to separate inmates from one another, would be needed. Legislation was finally passed on March 20, 1821, and eleven...

References: Allen, H. E., Latessa, E. J., & Ponder, B. S. (2013). Corrections in America an Introduction. (13th Ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Johnston, Ph.D., N. (2012, October 13). Prison society. Retrieved from
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