Prison Reform (1830s-1850s)
Prisons in the early 1800s had many issues. One issue was that when people committed crimes, they were all put into the same prison. This led to many women and children and minor offenders being put with more violent prisoners. As a result, there was a push to remove children from prisons and Juvenile Detention Centers were created. Another issue was that prison conditions were overwhelmingly harsh, and were intended to punish the inmates. Many thought that this was unacceptable so the Auburn system was adopted. Its goal was to help rehabilitate prisoners instead of punishing them. Finally, many debtors prisons were present and they were harmful toward the poor. They were eliminated in the mid 1800s.
Primary Source"confined in this Commonwealth in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, beaten with rods, lashed into obedience." -Dorothea Dix
This quote for Dorothea Dix shows the ne ed for prison reform. Dorothea Dix was a school teacher who visited a prison, and recorded her experience. This quote from her article, along with many others, describes the horrifying truth of the pre-reformation prison.
Picture - this picture shows a man (reenactment) being put in a cell before his death sentence, for stealing a handkerchief.
Picture - this picture shows a debtor, pre-reformation, put in jail for not paying his taxes.
Long Term Effects
The biggest impact of the mid 1800s prison reformation is a shift from prisons being a place for punishment to being a place of rehabilitation. This is our perspective on prison today. Prisons became more effective, and many of the new laws put in place regarding care and treatment are also still in use today. European nations also based their prison system off of the American post reformation prisons.