Prison Reforms of the US (1830's-1850's)

Horizontally striped uniforms to identify inmates if they had escaped.

Prison reforms were put in place during the 1800's to change the way prisons operated and improve the conditions that the prisoners were held in. These reforms started many of the ideas we associate with prisons today and how they operate. Since prisons were pretty new in America, the reforms put in place the foundation for what they would eventually become.

Jail cells housing one or two inmates. This separation was thought to be rehabilitative for the inmates.

"She was horrified to see that many inmates were bound in chains and locked in cages. Children accused of minor thefts were jailed with adult criminals. She continued campaigning for reform for the rest of her life. By the time she died in 1887, state governments no longer put debtors in prison. Most had created special justice systems for children in trouble. And many had outlawed cruel punishments, such as branding people with hot irons." -Dorothea Dix, reformer for prisons and mental asylums in 1800's

The cause of the reforms was cruel, unnecessary punishments of prisoners and the ineffective, poorly planned systems of jails. The reforms brought better living conditions to prisoners and set up the Auburn System that is still the model for jails around the country. The Auburn System confined the prisoners in separate cells and gave them uniforms to wear, both of which are still done today. Before these reforms, prisoners were put in large rooms with other prisoners, children were mixed with adults, and inmates often escaped rather easily. Many of these old traditions came from England. Dorothea Dix, along with many others, campaigned for reforms of prisons for much of their lives.

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