Prison Reform of the U.S. (1830s-1850s)

The prison reforms of the U.S. were initially fueled by Dorothea Dix after she saw the horrors and injustice of state jails. Before the reforms, many inmates were bound in chains and locked in cages, children accused of minor thefts were jailed with adult criminals, the mentally ill were given no treatment, and inmates faced extreme punishments. Most people who were imprisoned for having debt only owed $20, but because of the current jail conditions, they were unable to pay off their debts and were forced to stay in prison for years. Shocked by what she saw, Dorothea Dix began collecting proof of cruelty from many different jails in order to advocate for change. This inspired a large movement for the way jails were run. State governments stopped putting debtors in prison, created juvenile detention centers for children, outlawed cruel punishments, and many adopted the idea that deviants could change and that prison could have a positive effect. Another famous reformist named Eliza Farnham removed the silence rule, added educational programs, and advocated for leisure and recreational activities.

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