Prison Reform in America

Topics: Prison, Capital punishment, Penology Pages: 5 (1903 words) Published: October 8, 2001
Prison "Reform" in America

In the essay "Prison "Reform" in America," Roger T. Pray points out the much attention that has been devoted to research to help prevent crimes. Showing criminals the errors of their ways not by brutal punishment, but by locking them up in the attempt to reform them. Robert Pray, who is a prison psychologist, is currently a researcher with the Utah Dept. of Corrections. He has seen what has become of our prison system and easily shows us that there is really no such thing as "Prison Reform" In Roger Prays essay we see how our prison system has come to where we are at now. He shows how history of prisons worked and how our basis of the prison system came about over the last 200 years. Robert states that it was the Americans that invented the prison. "The history of prison in America is the history of a troubled search for solutions." Before we had prisons in America, criminals where dealt with in a swift and brutal manner. Many prisoner where dealt with by corporal or capital punishment. Jails did exist in this time but they were "primarily for pretrail detention" stated Pray. "Today's system, where imprisonment is a common penalty for most crimes, is a historical newcomer." Many crimes during 1718 and 1776 were punishable by death. This was usually done by hanging, sometimes by stoning, breaking on the rack and burning at the stake. Towards the end of the 1700's people realized that cruel punishment did little to reduce crime and their society was changing the population grew and people started to move around more frequently. There had to be a search for new punishments. "New punishments were to rely heavily on new ideas imported from Europe in the writing of such social thinkers of the Enlightenment as the baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Thomas Pain and Cesare Beccaria". These thinkers came to believe that criminals could be rehabilitated." Beccaria, a European theorizer, had the most influence on penology. "His work had a profound effect on criminal punishment the world over." Beccaria wrote "the purpose of punishment is not to torment a sensible being, or to undo a crime [but] is none other than to prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society and to prevent others from committing the like offense." This is how we came to categorizing crimes. In 1786, the Quakers played an important role in inventing the first prison. They felt that the brutal criminal punishment was irreconcilable with their Christian beliefs. So in 1786, they persuaded the Pennsylvania legislature to limit the death penalty to murder, treason, rape and arson. It was then that all other criminals would have to be imprisoned for up to ten years. As the population grew and more people where getting sent to prison instead of being executed the prison began to get crowded. The Walnut Street prison, which was the first prison, built in 1790 was a prototype for other prisons to be built over the next 30 years. By the year 1817 the prison began to deteriorate. Changes and overcrowding of prisoners in one room pushed Pennsylvania legislature to build more prisons. In 1817 two more prisons where built, one in eastern and one in western Pennsylvania. They built these prisons with separate cell areas, so each inmate could be kept alone, eliminating all the problems of congregate living. The idea of having separate cells did not originate in America. "Of course the notion of forcibly confining people is ancient and there is extensive evidence that the Romans had a well-developed system for imprisoning different types of offenders." (Meskelly). It was the Auburn jail that added a new system to imprisonment. It was solitary confinement. At the time many criminals had mental breakdowns being locked up in one room by themselves for years. It was then that a thirty five year rivalry between Pennsylvania and New York began. They had prison systems of two basic forms, Pennsylvania had the individual system and New York the...

Cited: Prison "Reform" in America by Robert T. Pray Historical Viewpoints Volume 1
An American resolution: The history of prisons in the United States from 1777 to 1877 by Matthew Meskell. Stanford Law Review.
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