RQ: to focus on, probably incarceration of minorities) Introduction:

RQ: How did society
shape the US Prison Systems and how did its history set up the problems that
exist today?  (maybe choose one topic to
focus on, probably incarceration of minorities) 


Essentially talk about the historical aspects that influenced the penal system,
don’t analyze this part as much, simply list information. Include the British
penal system that the US was influenced by, the mental health reform, prison
reform, and others (research). Then move onto the global politics side, mainly
with mass incarceration and other issues that still exist today. Talk about how
these controversies may influence the future of the US penal system

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and British Influence on the United States Prison System

US Prison System, an institution over two hundred years old, has much of its
beginnings in English Society. The basic idea can be found within the English
workhouse, a place for the idle poor of English society to recover from their “disease (Hirsch, 1992).” To combat this,
the workhouse, an early jail, was created as a place for the idle to be
committed for a period of time. Within twenty years of the first English
workhouse’s opening, in 1557, Parliament had made it law for every county to
construct a workhouse. The reasons for incarceration in England expanded to
include petty crimes in the 1620’s. As England developed throughout the 1700’s
into Great Britain, incarceration with hard labor was deemed an acceptable
punishment those that were convicted of larceny, were unable to be brought to
the Colonies, or for those serving a sentence before an execution. With the
rise of the American Revolution, the transportation of convicts from Great
Britain to the Colonies became difficult, and the Penitentiary Act was passed.
The act required the construction of two prisons with a daily work schedule for
highly regulated and controlled prisoners (Hirsch, 1992). The influx of
prisoners into British prisons quickly caused their quality to deteriorate,
which would lead to John Howard’s work as a proponent for prisoner’s rights and
prison reform (Christianson, 1998) (Hirsch, 1992). John Howard, after
being imprisoned for a period of time himself, lead the way for prison reform
in Great Britain, Europe, and the United States. His 1777 publication, The State of the Prisons, included his
personal accounts, plans, and ideas for prison improvements, such as basic
hygiene standards. He is credited for the design of single-celling, the
practice of segregating prisoners into individual cells instead of one communal
area or group cells, which would soon spread from Britain to the United States.
In fact the penitentiaries built in the United States during the 1820’s, the
Auburn and Eastern State, both would use solitary confinement and inmate
division to rehabilitate inmates, ideas spawned from single-celling. These
penitentiaries would become models for future penitentiaries throughout the
United States (Meranze, 1996) (Sherman &
Hawkins, 1983).

of the United States Prison System

 As the Colonies grew in North America they
developed their own systems and uses for prisons and jails. The United States
prison system of the late 1600’s to mid-1700’s mostly lacked any prolonged
confinement. Instead of hard labor and imprisonment, punishments such as fines whippings,
banishment, capital punishment by hanging, and the stocks were used as
deterrents in colonies, meanwhile in others community punishments were used to
deter any “sinful” behavior (Christianson, 1998). “The Puritans who
had founded Massachusetts in 1630 viewed their war on crime as a moral
necessity, for they considered every crime a sin and every sin a crime …
Believing that public humiliation would help deter others, the Puritans
constructed stocks in every public square … The punitive alphabet included “A”
(adulterer), “B” (blasphemer), “D” (drunk), “F” (fighter), “M” (manslaughter),
“R” (rogue), and “T” (thief). (Christianson, 1998)” While Massachusetts, one colony of
thirteen, was more religious and unique with their law code, it was the Quakers
that would find themselves in a unique situation to shape the prison system. The
Quakers would become interested in the existing Colonies penal system after
many Quakers themselves were imprisoned (the Puritans had a habit of doing this).
In fact the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, which was formed to escape religious
persecution and imprisonment, had a criminal law code that favored imprisonment
instead of the other community punishments that colonies such as Massachusetts
favored, with future individuals calling for prison reform to aid inmates (Christianson,
1998) (Henderson,
Year Unknown).
From the early days of the American colonies there existed a desire for prison
reform as different colonies experimented with different systems and more
people experienced the faults within them, however there still was no cohesive
system that could be systematically fixed. Since a punishment was employed more
often than incarceration, jails were used primarily for pre-trial,
pre-sentencing and for holding debtors or those that could not pay bail, mainly
the poor.  Most jails were attached to
the jailors house or residence, inmates were required to pay for their cell and
basic items, and without laws that set guidelines for how a jail should be run,
most inmates’ basic rights and needs were neglected and escapes were both
common and mainly ignored (Christianson, 1998) (Hirsch, 1992). It took the
post-Revolution urbanization of the United States, and the increased crime
rates and changing social mindsets that came with it, to create need for more
uniformity within the United States prisons and jails (Hirsch, 1992).

Post-Revolution Changes and Reforms

      As Colonies, doubled, tripled, and even
increased their populations by a factor of five, there became an urgent need
for an improved prison system within the United States. No longer would
traditional and corporal punishments be enough to deter petty crimes, as an
increased population size also came with increased urbanization, the social
structures of the 1700’s began to deteriorate as social mobility became more
fluid in the cities (Rothman, 1971). As this social change was occurring so
was the public’s idea of a new subclass, the criminal. As crime rates appeared
to rise, so did the desire to place this newly discovered “subclass” in a
location away from the other citizens (Hirsch, 1992). With the continual
abolishment of slavery in some States, starting in 1777 with Vermont, and the
slow discontinuation of outdated and ineffective methods of community-based
punishments, fines, and banishment, as how could a community justify sending a
criminal to another neighboring state or community (Meranze,
and reformers of the time began to try and distance the United States from the
British penal practices that had been used. With continued efforts to enforce
incarceration as a primary punishment for crimes, by the 1820’s only three
states had yet to do so (Rothman, 1971). The ability to
incarcerate inmates did not immediately lead to a spike in incarceration rates,
as judges still retained the final say in the punishment of convicts and still
had their choice of punishment so long as it matched the crime (Hirsch, 1992). The construction of
prisons progressed alongside the United States shift towards incarceration;
however the true prison institutions would not form until the Jacksonian Era (Rothman,

Jacksonian/Antebellum Era and the Modern Day Penitentiary

            As the nineteenth century progressed, so did the American
perception of what constitutes criminality and how it should be dealt with. The
classification of institutions began with the construct of not only jails or
prisons, but penitentiaries for criminals, asylums for the mentally ill, and
almshouses for the poor. With the continual shift in perception also came the
societal desire to define and trace criminality. Reformers and officials of the
time concluded that society bred crime, with it corrupting people to fall
influence to immorality and vice. In order to combat the degradation of society
at the hands of, well, society, officials sought to separate convicts from
society entirely in order to free or cure them of their immorality. In the
1820’s New York would build two penitentiaries with that goal in mind, a place
for the convicted to live either entirely or partially in solitude (Rothman,
The Pennsylvania system favored complete solitude; an inmate worked, ate, and
slept in the same cell for the duration of their sentence, with no outside
contact. The purpose of the institution was for the inmate to rehabilitate
themselves through reflection and solitude, although it ended up driving many
insane instead (Rothman, 1971). The eventual cost
of the building, $750,000, would prove to be too much for widespread use (Hirsch, 1992) (McKelvey,
The Auburn System, another Northern penitentiary, would prove far more
successful and cost effective. This system had prisoners remain in solitude
while they slept, but required group working hours during the day, although
communication between inmates was strictly prohibited. Auburn began to classify
inmates based off of danger shortly into its operation, keeping the worst
offenders under complete solitary confinement, allowing those that exhibited
good behavior from the middle offenders to work in groups, and the least
guilty, who worked and slept under the original design of the Auburn system.
Similarly to the Pennsylvania system, several men under complete solitude would
die or go insane (Christianson, 1998). The problems within
these systems weren’t entirely unaddressed, however. Reformers Francis Lieber, Samuel
Gridley Howe, and Dorothea Dix all sought improvements to these institutions,
with libraries, education, reduced violence, and the separation of women and
children from male convicts. Reform was limited, but the United States still
felt as though it held the model prison for rehabilitation and punishment (ushistory.org). As the Antebellum
Period came to a close, fifteen states or territories had created a
penitentiary that implemented a system similar to the Auburn system, a unified
prison system had begun to form in the United States (McKelvey,
although the South would prove to be opposed to this as it too developed during
the Antebellum period.

            The South had not undergone the urbanization that existed
in the North, and there existed an idea that no white person, not even a
criminal, should have their freedom taken by any person or entity, especially
the government. The persecution of petty criminals would be handled locally in
most rural communities of the South, with the government taking responsibility
of the more dangerous (Ayers, 1986). Although public
support for penitentiaries was lacking in the South, only two states would fail
to construct one before the Civil War. The majority of inmates in these
institutions proved to be whites, as slaves were generally tried and punished
outside of the penitentiary system. This did not prevent free blacks from
making up a surprising third majority in some Southern states, however, a fact
that concerned some lawmakers about the possibility of racial mixing (Ayers, 1986). As around nine
tenths of the Southern population lived outside of an urban setting, violent
crimes were predominant. It was property crime and theft that was judged
harsher, leading to these convicts making up half of the South’s inmate
population while only making up twenty percent of criminals convicted in court (Ayers, 1986). This was due partly
to the difficulty in finding an unbiased jury in the close communities of the
South, many violence trials ended in an acquittal rather than a conviction.

            While the North was unifying its idea of a prison system
around its urban cities and areas, the South was struggling to enforce those
same ideas amongst a scattered population that believed in the rights of an
individual over the government (Ayers, 1986). Despite these
differences the penitentiary had managed to make itself a place to grow within
American society once the Civil War ended.

Immigration, and Eugenics

            As prison populations increased past the capacity of both
the institutions and those there to control them, wardens and guards increased
the use of treatments and devices, such as shackles, solitary confinement,
simulated drowning, and paddling, in order to control the inmates (Rothman,
Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive
America, 2002).
While abuse seemed widespread and investigations constant in some states, there
was little done to change how inmates were treated (Christianson,
The general apathy that existed during the Reconstruction Era had to do with
who made up prison populations. During the late 1800’s immigration into the
United States continued to rapidly increase, with millions of immigrants
arriving between the 1870’s and 1910’s. Foreign born inmates outnumbered native
born two to one, while black natives outnumbered white natives three to one.
Most inmates also possessed little to no education, worked in unskilled jobs,
and lacked connections in the increasingly nativist society of the United
States (Christianson, 1998). The emergence of
eugenics also posed a threat to the rights and conditions of inmates.
Criminality became increasingly equated to genetics during this time, with
penitentiaries asylums recording data on their inmates, testing medicines,
running experiments, and sterilizing their inmates, most with state support and
funding (Christianson, 1998). Due to fears of the
criminal class and the potential for their “inferior” genes to taint the
population there were little to no improvements during the Reconstruction Era,
instead prisons saw an influx of minorities, an increase in abuse, and a loss
in rights for inmates (Christianson, 1998) (Rothman,
Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive
America, 2002).
Reform groups, however productive, were beginning to gather during this time
though, One group pushed for penitentiaries in order to prevent the return to
the lesser practices of corporal and traditional punishments. Another group,
The National Congress, set out reform goals that included competent
administration, hygiene standards, education, less violent punishment, and
rewards for good behavior. This group, however, also failed to gain much
support during the time, and cared little for the minority or foreign inmates
due to their supposed genetic inferiority (Christianson, 1998). A group did manage
to make changes in the South that went by the name, The Ku Klux Klan. They and
other Southerners pushed for local white police forces to maintain the racial
status quo, and to protect white citizens. Black Americans were also excluded
from the legal process and thus lost representation, further increases minority
populations within prisons as black defendants were convicted in the highest
numbers (Ayers, 1986). Southern States
pushed to pass “Black Codes” in the mid to late 1800’s, which made vagrancy a
crime and thus punishable with servitude (Ayers, 1986). Southern prisons
became more geared towards economic advantages as their black inmate
populations continued to rise opposite to their white inmate populations.
Convicts rebuilt a state’s infrastructure, were sent to mine, and continued to
lease inmates to businesses and companies (Christianson, 1998). The convict lease
system not only reestablished a form of slavery, it also allowed the devastated
economies of the Southern states to rebuild with essentially free labor at the
expense of minority groups, as death rates for leased convicts were three times
the rates of those in the North (Ayers, 1986) (Christianson,
The Reconstruction Era served to reform prisons for the benefit of white
southerners, with foreigners and black natives being held subject to abuse,
experimentation, and death. Public apathy would give way to empathy as the
early to mid-1900 progressed, however, especially as the Civil Rights Movement
gained momentum.

Era, Civil Rights Movement, and Law and Order

            Psychology and psychiatry began to find their place
within the United States prison systems towards the start of the nineteen
hundreds, with health officials becoming more involved in criminal policy
making. Little changed initially through an increased scientific perspective,
however, as little was still understood about the “causes” of criminality
within a person. The introduction of behavioral sciences began to refocus
prisons on rehabilitation during the 1950’s, with rehabilitative practices that
focused on the inmates correction more so than the punishment. Unfortunately
the civil unrest and societal tension found a home within the prisons, and
riots broke out in prisons across the United States, spurned by a lack of
hygiene standards, healthcare, food, and by excessive uses of force (Abadinsky,
2014) (Morris &
Rothman, 1997).



Three strikes law

Difference in
population and prison population





            Any other Prison Reform

            The New Jim Crow

            Mass Incarceration and the Death Penalty / Rights
(solitary confinement)

These are really the two major
controversies of today
Drug use is treated differently
among different ethnicities
Death penalty might be overused
Solitary confinement is basically
considered to be torture
How these will influence the policy
of the future’
These might be split into separate




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