Prison system in the past history

But such concern about the problems of life behind bars generally has little real impact on sentencing policy. On the contrary, both Britain and the US have experienced a considerable growth in the prison and jail population since the mids. In the US in early , people were imprisoned per , of population. Prisons are so accepted today as a fundamental part of criminal justice, that for most people it must be inconceivable how society could ever do without them. Rothman, the prison emerged barely years ago as the major way of dealing with offenders.

The 13 contributors trace the history of punishment and incarceration from ancient times to the present, setting the extraordinary transformation of the ideology and practice of imprisonment into the larger context of social and political change. The book is divided into two parts, the first one offering a straightforward historical narrative, focusing primarily on the prison system of the US and Britain since the s. The chapters of the second part consider in more detail a number of themes, such as local justice, the juvenile reform school and the history of the literature of confinement.

What unites most of the essays is the attempt to address the question of how the prison system could have gained such credibility, since the system itself is so strange that in David J.

Rothman's words it "can still prompt an inmate to want to meet the man who dreamed it all up, convinced that he must have been born on Mars" p. In fact, the prison is very much a product of this world and was already known in ancient and medieval times. Yet, in the middle ages the prison population was still largely confined to those awaiting trial or the implementation of their sentence, and to debtors.

Other forms of punishment were much more popular, as Pieter Spierenburg points out in his excellent chapter on early modern Europe. Contemporary attitudes were most clearly embodied, according to Spierenburg, in execution on the scaffold, and other forms of corporal punishment such as mutilation, whipping and branding. These and other non-physical public punishments, including symbolic acts of shaming and dishonouring, had a highly ritualistic and theatrical character, partly aimed at the deterrence from crime of the assembled public.

However, the nature of the penal system of Europe had changed greatly by the midth century, with various forms of incarceration gradually replacing the "theatre of horror". From Spierenburg's account there emerge two distinct developments which help explain this shift. Firstly, imprisonment with forced labour and other forms of penal servitude such as the galleys grew increasingly popular from the earlyth century onwards, as attitudes towards idleness and poverty changed.


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The poor were increasingly expected to work, and houses of correction emerged all over northern Europe to ensure that they would do so. Secondly, attitudes to the body of the offender and to public punishment altered, with the judicial elites being more and more reluctant to hand out death sentences or penalties involving mutilation. These factors combined to make imprisonment a well-established element of criminal justice by the end of the early modern period. But imprisonment was not yet totally dominant as a form of punishment.

The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?

For example, transportation was still very popular in England, both in the 18th century to the America, and in the following century to Australia. Furthermore, prisons were not yet what we refer to under that name today. As Randall McGowen points out in his account of the English prison, "the contrast between a prison in and one in could scarcely have been greater" p. In the 18th century, the debtors and remand prisoners in the local jails often mingled together with petty offenders who were sent to the workhouse. In the prisons there was little sign of authority, it was noisy and smelly, and some prisoners were gambling while others were drinking beer sold by the jailors.

The inmates were also relatively free to mingle with friends and family. All this was to change at the end of the eighteenth century. In a period which saw the temporary end to transportation and an apparent increase of crime after the American Revolution, the discussion about confinement was renewed.

Religiously inspired, the reformers attacked the contemporary disorder in the prison and aimed at methods which would reform the prisoner. Yet, despite the continuation of the debate about the state of prisons in the early 19th century, prisons in England in the s generally still operated on the basis of informality.

Slavery and Prison - Understanding the Connections

It was the influence of penal experiments in America that led to the most sustained effort in England to reconstruct the prison in the following decades. As David J. Rothman argues in his chapter on the US prison system, the s and 30s in the States were characterised by widespread fears about the supposed disintegration of society and the family.

Breathing Through Bars: A Brief HIstory on the Prison System in America

It was in this context that reformers discovered the prison as a place to teach order and discipline to the offenders, who were perceived as a fundamental threat to the stability of society. The basic idea was to hold prisoners in solitude in order to shield them from the supposed contaminating influence of other convicts. Being left in completely silence with only the company of one's conscience and the Bible was to bring about the spiritual renewal of the offender. Until the s, the industrial prison—a system in which incarcerated people were forced to work for private or state industry or public works—was the prevalent prison model.

Gratuitous toil, pain, and hardship became a primary aspect of punishment while administrators grew increasingly concerned about profits. The rise of organized labor in the s and s, as well as the passage of federal legislation restricting the interstate commerce of goods made by convict labor, brought an end to many industrial-style prisons. In their place, the conditions and activities that made up the incarceration experience remained similar, but with purposeless and economically valueless activities like rock breaking replacing factory labor.

By the mids, as white immigrant groups were absorbed into the white racial category, the white public became increasingly concerned about the conditions they endured in prison. These were primarily Irish first- and second-generation immigrants.

History of United States prison systems - Wikipedia

Starting in about , a new era of prison reform emerged; some of the rigidity of earlier prison structures was relaxed and some aspects of incarceration became more physically and psychologically tolerable. These prisons offered more recreation, visitation, and communication with the outside world through regular access to the mail, as well as sporadic movies or concerts. Most notably, this period saw the first introduction of therapeutic programming and educational and vocational training in a prison setting. These programs were largely justified on the principle that they could bring about the rehabilitation of an incarcerated person.

Indeed, the implementation of this programming was predicated on public anxiety about the number of white people behind bars. As with other social benefits implemented at the time, black Americans were not offered these privileges. Incarcerated black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities also lived in race-segregated housing units and their exclusion from prison social life could be glimpsed only in their invisibility.

Their experiences were largely unexamined and many early sociological studies of prisons do not include incarcerated people of color at all. As in previous periods, the criminal justice system was used to marginalize and penalize people of color. In the s and s, as riots broke out in a number of urban centers and a wave of violent crime rolled across the United States, politicians on both sides of the aisle not only continued to link race and crime in rhetoric, they took action, enacting harsh, punitive, and retributively oriented policies as a solution to rising crime rates.

Riots were sparked by police violence against unarmed black youths, as well as exclusionary practices that blocked black integration into white society. During this period of violent protest, more people were killed in domestic conflict than at any time since the Civil War. Politicians also linked race and crime with poverty and the New Deal policies that had established state-run social programs designed to assist individuals in overcoming the structural disadvantages of poverty.

Corrections, Rehabilitation and Criminal Justice in the United States: 1800-1970

As black Americans achieved some measures of social and political freedom through the civil rights movement, politicians took steps to curb those gains. Richard Nixon also successfully used a street crime and civil rights activism narrative in his and presidential campaigns. The message resonated with many Southern whites and Northern working-class whites, who left the Democratic Party in the decades that followed. This tight link between race and crime was later termed the Southern Strategy.

Alexander, The New Jim Crow , , Compounding the persistent myth of black criminality was a national recession in the s that led to a loss of jobs for low-skilled men in urban centers, hitting black men the hardest. In the s, New York, Chicago, and Detroit shed a combined , jobs.

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These losses were concentrated among young black men: as many as 30 percent of black men who had dropped out of high school lost their jobs during this period, as did 20 percent of black male high school graduates. The departure of white and middle- to upper-class black Americans from cities to the suburbs further concentrated poor black people in a handful of city blocks. Many black Americans found themselves trapped in a decaying urban core with few municipal services or legitimate opportunities for employment.

By , in the Northern formerly industrial urban core, as many as two-thirds of black men had spent time in prison. The quality of life in cities declined under these conditions of social disorganization and disinvestment, and drug and other illicit markets took hold. By , employment in one inner-city black community had declined from 50 percent to one-third of residents. In the s and s, policymakers continued to turn to punitive policing and sentencing strategies to restore social order and address increasing drug use—resulting in larger and larger numbers of unemployed black urban residents with low levels of education being swept into prisons.

History of United States prison systems

The numbers are stunning. In , the state and federal prison population was , By , it had grown to , And, by the year , federal and state correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1. William J. Sabol, Heather C. These numbers have defined the current period of mass incarceration. Prisons overflowed and services and amenities for incarcerated people diminished. People in prison protested and violent riots erupted, such as the uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in Legal remedies for people in prison also dried up, as incarcerated people lost access to the courts to contest the conditions of their incarceration.


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  8. And this growth in incarceration disproportionately impacted black Americans: in , black men were imprisoned at a rate six and half times higher than white men.