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

  In the 1820's, Auburn Prison in New York introduced the "silent" prison system, a system based off labor during the day and isolation during the night.  This system was dubbed the silent system because overall, the prisoners were kept in silence while at the prison.  However, in the 1830's, reformers began to view prisons as potential institutions for teaching order and discipline to convicts.  In the midst of these ideas for reforms, a new prison system emerged, backed most ardently by William Crawford and Whitworth Russell.  This new system was dubbed the separate system, due to its policy of prisoner isolation.  Prisoners were kept separate from each other every hour of every day, alone save for their consciences and the Bible.  This system resulted in the creation of Pentonville in 1842, a prison institution constructed for the sole purpose of prisoner isolation.  However, over the years since its inception, Pentonvilles annual reports showed negative impacts on the inmates, suggesting future failure.  In 1847, Crawford and Russell both died, immediately slowing the progression of the separate system.  This resulted in the mingling of the silent and separate systems as reformers shifted their focus away from which policy was best and to the idea of whether or not the current penal system was severed enough in its ministrations to convicts.   

The above image shows inmates at Pentonville exercising.  Each prisoner is wearing a mask to hide their identities from one another, and are separated by 4.5 meters of rope so that they can't talk amongst themselves.   Measures such as this at Pentonville were the cause of 55 inmates going mad, 26 having nervous breakdowns, and 3 committing suicide over the 8 years following Pentonville's inception.  

This drawing depicts Pentonville.  It is incredibly large due to the need for keeping prisoners separate from eachother.

An important person in the prison reform was Dorothea Dix because she brought attention to everyone that the sick and insane were  "confined in this Commonwealth in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, beaten with rods, lashed into obedience." She toured prisons, private houses, and workhouses to gather evidence of appalling abuses, she made her case for state-supported care. Ultimately, she not only helped establish five hospitals in America, but also went to Europe where she successfully pleaded for human rights to Queen Victoria and the Pope.

The prison reform was very significant because the insane or crazy were beaten and abused in many ways until they were obedient, and the reform changed the old ways and opened some asylums were they could study the illnesses and treat the insane with a little more dignity than they were given before.

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