Prison system of the 18th and the early 19th century

Essay by babyblue22 December 2003

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In the early 1800's, state prisoner were leased to Florida companies where they were often worked as slave labor. Mart Taber was a young prisoner convicted of stealing a ride on a freight train. He died as a result of the brutal treatment administered by a lumber company boss to whom he was leased. The prison system of the 1800's and the early 1900's was based on cruel and inhumane treatment. Punishment was very tragic. The prisoners were treated as animal and consider less of inhuman because of their lawlessness. They were made to right the wrongs that they have committed either trough physical pain, endure mutilation, torture, mulcted in fines, deprive of liberty, adjudges as slave or even put to death.

The American prison as we know began in New York in the early 19th century. "Reformation" was the goal of the founders of the system. During the colonial period and in the early years of the nation, long-term imprisonment was not a common form of punishment in prison.

Instead, execution was the prescribed penalty for a wide range of offenses. People who committed less serious offenses faced public punishment such as pillorying, whipping and maiming.

At the beginning of the 19th century, imprisonment had replaced public punishment and execution as a form of punishment for most crimes, except murder and treason. The early places of imprisonment ranged from wood frame houses to copper mine, such as the Connecticut prison in 1790. Then, in the early 19th century two concepts of imprisonment were introduced in New York and Pennsylvania, including what the structures should look like and how they should be operated, "Few people had any idea what the structures should look like or how they should be administered." (The Evolution of the New YorkPrison System, Part I. Page1) These institutions were not only meant to be houses of convicted criminals, they also had the objective of reforming inmates into temperate, industrious, hard-working citizens and return them to their societies as new men. Sentences were long enough to allow the prison system its program of reformation.

In Pennsylvania, the prison system of reformation was to separate the inmate and provide him with a small room and a exercise area totally isolated from the human companionship "Only in the purity of complete isolation could be the corruption be overcome and the restoration of faith and honesty be attained" (The Evolution of the New YorkPrison System, Part I. Page2) After an appropriate period of total isolation and inactivity, the prisoner was allowed to small bits of handicraft work and a Bible in his cell. The inmate was not allowed to see another prisoner. The founders of the prison system believed that isolation was the only way for a prisoner is rehabilitated.

Prison system of the 18th and early 19th century left a reasonable quantity of dead prisoners and also physical abuse to the inmate. The crime that any prisoner has committed doesn't justify the cruel and inhumane treatment they receive in jail. If the founders of the prison system from that time of period wouldn't have been so cruel, they would had avoid so many death and people being maltreated. Instead of merciless punishment they should had given them social work as their sentence and should had taken advantage from the prisoners keeping in mind that they are human beings.